Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Five: Groups

The RevGalBlogPal Friday Five, about groups!

1. Tell us about any group(s) you currently belong to. (e.g. book club, knitting circle, walking buddies, etc.)

I belong to my local chapter of MOMS Club, a nonsectarian organization for at-home moms that offers activities during the day at which our kids are always welcome. My MOMS Club chapter has been a great bonus in my life these last seven years here in Oklahoma. Though now my kids are too old for playgroups and most of the outings, I'm a faithful participant in the monthly frugal group and garden group to see friends and talk about those topics. We sometimes make it to an outing or the after-school playgroup or the moms night out (just for moms) as well.

I also participate in a nonfiction book club with a wonderful set of women, some of whom I already counted among my very good friends locally. We started a year ago and meet monthly, reading some pretty interesting books. I love being able to discuss and argue and discuss further the various topics brought up by the books and that emerge in our conversation. We eat great food, too!

Here's another group, I think: my Daughters of the King chapter at my church. We meet monthly throughout the program year (Sept-May), and this is the most age-diverse of my groups. I'm the youngest member, I think, at 43, and a bunch of our members are in their 70s and 80s. It has been an amazing experience to be part of this group of praying women. At each meeting we go over our ongoing ministries in the parish and other things, we discuss part of a book we're reading all year (on some aspect of spiritual life related to prayer), and we pray through our prayer list. It is also a microcosm of the church and the Church, with personalities, histories, expectations, and lots of love, sometimes not obvious but it's there anyway. This group is totally different from anything else I do and it focuses on things that are important to me but that I tend to neglect; that's pretty much exactly why I joined the Daughters of the King.

2. Do you feel energized or drained by being in a group situation? If the answer is "it depends," on what does it depend?

It depends! If I know everyone fairly well, I can be sparkly or chatty and have a great time. If I know some people well and others are new, I can be the welcomer and orientation person (!). If I don't know anyone but my husband, I try to make conversation with folks and I do okay. If I don't know a soul but have a reason for being there, I manage to converse and keep busy for a couple of hours and then suddenly get really tired, abandon hope, and drag myself home (e.g., my 25th high school reunion a year ago, sigh).

3. Is there a role you naturally find yourself playing in group situations? That is, do you naturally fall into the leader role, or the one who always makes sure the new person feels welcome, or the quiet one who sits back and lets others shine, or the host?

See my answer to No. 2...

4. Handshakes vs. hugs: discuss.

Hugs with people who are good friends. Otherwise, here's my friendly handshake and grin.

5. Ice breakers: a playful way to build community in a lighthearted manner, or a complete and utter hell of forced fun and awkwardness? Bonus : If you answered "playful and lighthearted," share your favorite ice breaker.

It ALL depends on the situation. Really. And the leader(s), but the situation makes or breaks it.

The best MOMS Club icebreaker ever was when we had a lot of new members and someone on the sly prepared a bingo-style grid for us to try to fill out. Mom who drives a compact car. A van. Who has worked construction. Who has worked as a teacher. Who has lived here 2 months. 2 years. 10 years. Born here. Lived in 4 states. Never left this state. Who has twins. Five kids. Is a pharmacist. Sells Tupperware. Etc. (There was a person for every option, due to the sly preparation.) Very fun!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What curriculum are you using?

This is, so far, the most frequently asked question that I was not expecting from folks who don't themselves homeschool. I feel at a loss to answer, because I'm not sure that what we use will mean much.

On the other hand, it's what they're asking, so I say, "We're using a variety of resources: Singapore math, a mental math approach; Classical Composition, an imitative writing program; Explode the Code for phonics; for grammar and a language, we're doing Latin; and in history we're studying the ancient world, tying in art history, music as best we can, writing projects, and other projects for fun. We're learning about weather, geography, and astronomy. We're also doing some art lessons and beginning piano." I usually forget the weather, geography, astronomy part, and Italic handwriting.

Is that enough of an answer? Should I be answering differently? What does a non-homeschooler really want to hear?

For instance, we're actually using a Classical approach along with a four-year cycle through history. This simplifies things tremendously while covering what we need and want to do. I chose Classical Composition to teach the tools for writing, because Son1 has no problem with creative writing but needs a solid grasp of the tools. He imitates and expands on a chosen text (currently Aesop's fables) by way of the writing exercises used from the Greeks to the 19th century. Grammar, logical thinking, and the experience of a different language are all wrapped up in learning Latin, just as the classical languages were used in education for centuries. For history, I started our four-year cycle at the beginning, with prehistory and the ancient world; it fits great this year with Aesop's fables and starting Latin.

This is streamlined and focused, and we have plenty of time to do fun stuff and play and delve into whatever interests us. This week I'm continuing our focus on writing, art, and construction in the ancient world (ie, around the Mediterranean, and in India, China, Meso-America, Africa, Australia).

To keep on track, I take a look at the state's grade-by-grade goals a couple of times a year, and I'm very happy to have recently acquired a copy of Home Learning Year by Year: How to design a homeschool curriculum from preschool through high school, by Rebecca Rupp (Ph.D., microbiology, and homeschooling mom).

Or should I just say we are following "an old-fashioned model," doing Singapore math, composition and phonics, Latin, history, and projects?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nickel and Dimed, Fast Food Nation, oh my

I was ignoring my reading for a week or so, but on Thursday I started reading Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, for my book club meeting tonight (that I may or may not attend as it turns out, but anyway). I am nearly at the end, and it was both less and more than I expected. Also different than I expected. It's going to be a great discussion starter for our (nonfiction) book club.

Several thoughts that I continue to mull over (hmmmmm):
1. Working folks being incredibly beaten down by the daily difficulties of life.
2. Corporations, big business, making money on the backs of the workers. No "trickle-down" prosperity at all, at all.
3. How entirely invisible this part of our social and economic world is to me, a white-collar, highly educated, stay-at-home mom with lots and lots of options.
4. I think I shall never again seriously entertain the idea of hiring a housecleaner. Unless maybe it's to clean the windows; certainly not for kitchen or bathroom "cleaning" as she described it. Eww.

Now back to reading Fast Food Nation -- which is also different than I expected; the first part is about the rise of the fast food corporations / industry, and intersects with Ehrenreich's experiences being employed at a lower rung of the economic "ladder" in a variety of situations. Hmmm.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We have Scouts in the house

Both boys were interested in finding out what Cub Scouts was about, so in late August we went to the first pack meeting of the year. This was a pack that had a lot of boys in it we knew, and we'd heard good things about it. I signed them up before we left! Son1 is a new Webelos II, and Son2 is a Tiger Cub.

Now each boy has a weekly den meeting with dear husband and the other boy is at home with me. We all attend the monthly pack meeting. They are excited and having a ball, and dear husband and I love it, yay! A friend suggested we try 4-H, but Cub Scouts has just clicked in a very big way with us. I love how well the adults treat the boys in small and large groups; the fact that the leadership is mostly men (but not 100 percent); the good organization of this pack (I gather that's not always the case); the variety of things the boys will be able to do throughout the year and in coming years; and how the boyness of the boys is treated -- as perfectly normal! The fundraisers are even reasonably reasonable, and 90 percent of the money raised goes to the individual Cub Scout's pack account to pay for summer day camp and other opportunities; I really like that approach.

Son1 is very excited about the family campout at the end of the month. It's two nights and a full day camping with family, other scouts, and leaders. For our family it's been complicated trying to figure out how to do it, because we have NO camping gear, dear husband has an obligation Friday evening, and I have an obligation on Sunday morning. Wonderfully, dear husband has worked this out. Son1 will go for the entire time, under the wing of his assistant den leader, leaving Friday early evening. Dear husband and Son2 will go for the day on Saturday and come back that evening. Then Son1 will return Sunday late morning. It works! And I noticed that in the midst of that is the very big gift of a Saturday to myself. Wow. We need to get Son1 a ground pad, but otherwise we have pretty much everything he'll need. The dens take turns being responsible for a meal, apparently, organized by the den leaders -- this time.

There was a previous, more complicated plan that brought me along for the first night, too, which I was up for--except for the fact that we have NO camping gear and honestly I have no proper outdoor clothing. I don't think dresses and flipflops or Birkenstocks are quite the typical gear. I'd be fine if nothing unusual came up, but that's not good preparedness!

As of yesterday afternoon and a trip to the far side of Nearby City, the boys each have a uniform shirt. Son1 has his first earned badge and his handmade den patch, and I have a lot of patch and badge sewing to get his shirt ready to wear! Then I'll get started on Son2's; we got him a Tiger Cub T-shirt to start, and will get a regular Cub Scout shirt for him shortly, now that I know what patches to buy. I'm pretty curious about the Raingutter Regatta coming up, and the winter campout for Webelos that is on the calendar in the week following Christmas.

My guys and I love Scouting so far. I hope the months and years to come bear out this early promise of good things in Scouting.

Lemonade extras

Er, I forgot (no, I'm sure I blocked it out of my mind) a couple of additional lemonade moments.

1. Late on the second day the boys came inside, flushed with excitement, talking about how cool it was to... shoot lemonade out of their water gun (super blaster or some such thing). Mom goes slightly ballistic (hahaha I'm so punny), makes them put away all of the lemonade stand stuff (what is my pitcher doing in the yard?? put everything away right now!! you are done for the day!) and wash out the lemonade gun (arrrgh!) and strip off their lemonade-wet clothes and take showers. I guess that's what happens after a couple of hours of kids with a lemonade stand but no sales. Funny now, but not at the time!

2. I think this was a couple of days later. We had a pitcher of blue Kool-aid leftover, and Son1 was pouring some for himself and Son2 at the kitchen counter. He wasn't thrilled to be helping his brother, and he put Son2's straw in his cup with a little extra force. Hmmm, what happened next? BLUE DRINK EVERYWHERE.

Son1 tipped the cup by accident, and blue drink went all down Son2's front, onto his socks, the floor, the cupboard in front of him, the counter (under the toaster, under the coffeemaker, across the sink), and so on. Mom was especially unhappy about this. Son2 was upset to get wet and to lose all of that blue drink. Son1 was upset to have knocked over the cup AND to be cleaning it up to the accompaniment of Mom discovering More More More places the blue drink had gotten to. Another shower for blue-drinked Son2, and clothes to be washed immediately (very bright blue formerly white socks ended up speckly dark gray and thrown out--only later did I realize they would've been fine chalkboard cleaners). A clean floor area and cupboard front after Son1's work, and super cleaned-up kitchen counters (etc.) after my work. Ay-iy-iy. It's still not funny now, sigh. I'm enjoying the cleaned and cleared counters, but we haven't made any more Kool-aid... And so it goes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lemonade-stand entrepreneurs

My sons have run a lemonade stand in our driveway for the last three afternoons. I've been amazed at how this has evolved. Day One: pay dispute. Day Two: pay to owner only. Day Three: competition arises.

On Tuesday Son2 had the lightbulb idea ("aha!") of having a lemonade stand. I said, well, er, that's a great idea for when the weather gets hot again, maybe in a couple of days... but I was no match for my six-year-old son with a hot idea.

Son2 got out our stash of Kool-aid and lemonade packets and chose some. Then he started scavenging for good cardboard boxes (I, the Tupperware lady, have a decent supply of cardboard, LOL) and I started to bend a little.

We found a flat box (about 1" x 18" x 24", actually!) and Son2 used black marker to make his sign. He copied the word "Lemonade" from a packet, "25c" with me telling him how to make the cents sign, and then he looked for a good box for the stand itself. We had just been given several utility shelving units made of heavy-duty plastic, and a half-height one, so I hauled that out for him (too windy on Tuesday for boxes!! and it can be hosed down if be). It even had two extra shelf supports we added as poles for decorations.

By 3 pm Tuesday Son2 was out in our driveway with a real lemonade stand! There was his sign, the stand itself, his plastic chair, a plastic pitcher of lemonade, a tray with a bunch of plastic cups, and our wooden bench from our entryway for people to "sit a spell." He even had a "money box" (small cardboard box). The poles had acquired the whirligigs and mini flags from the front garden, as well as ribbon I'd helped him attach (it was a windy day!).

As the next-door neighbor kids and other kids walked home from elementary and middle school bus dropoffs, Son2 sold lemonade and gained company. The mail carrier bought lemonade! Son2 and his 1st grader pal next door began working hard to drum up business, calling out to passing cars and middle school kids! Big brother Son1, age 10, and the 6th grade girl next door (the pal's big sister) helped fine-tune things, adding a pitcher of Kool-Aid and pretzels to sell, a cupful for 25c. Also a couple of kids who live nearby hung out for a while.

At 25c a cup, with some lemonade given away to his "helpers" who "joined the business," Son2 ended up with $3.50 for the day. This is a LOT of money for my sons, who don't get an allowance and seldom receive money gifts or opportunities to earn money.

You can tell what happened toward the end of the day (5ish); a big fat pay dispute! Son2 and I, and Son1 as representative for the other kids, spent maybe 45 minutes working on this after the stand closed for the day. By dinnertime Son2 agreed to pay each of the other kids 50c. Apparently they had "joined" with the expectation that they'd get some money, so Son2 needed to do that. On the other hand the idea of dividing *everything* equally didn't float with Mom; Son2 was the idea guy, did all the setup work, earned the first $1.50 all by himself and, basically, was the business owner. We talked about possibly compensation schemes in the future (for example, every dollar earned in the future be divided equally), but by bedtime Son2
was firm that he was selling lemonade on Wednesday and Not. Paying. Anyone. To. Help.

On Wednesday, that's pretty much what happened. I insisted that Son2 tell everyone right away (after they got home from school) that he wasn't going to pay anyone, and if they wanted to hang out or even help that was okay but no money was going from him to them. Interestingly, everyone hung out and even helped drum up business. Apparently they got free lemonade after their first several cups, or something like that.

Before Son2 set up his stand, I pointed out that he needed to wash his plastic cups, 'cause we didn't have any more. I set it up and showed him how, and he and Son1 washed the cups! Son1 bailed pretty quickly, but Son2 was committed and got his lemonade stand ready to open, with lemonade, Kool-aid, and pretzels. The end-of-day report at 5ish was that Son2 made about $1.50, pretty much from the kids themselves.

That night Son1 declared that Thursday was his day to run the lemonade stand. Son2 didn't want to let the franchise go, but I insisted Son1 get his day in the driveway.

On Thursday afternoon a complication arose. Son1 was busy with schoolwork at 3 pm, so his stand wasn't ready to go when the neighbor pal got home from school, and Son2 and his pal decided they were going to have a Kool-aid stand! Arrrgh, says Mom, and I put my foot down (to a certain extent); Son2 and his pal were not to do it on our driveway and were not to use our things, because it wasn't fair to Son1 and the idea seemed sort of mean to me. If they got the okay from the pal's mom to do it over there, "whatever."

So... I have no idea how they presented it to my neighbor, but in the end we had the Local Lemonade Stand and the Junior Competitor (I would've said it was like Starbucks trying to beat out the local coffee joint, but local seemed the better setup in this case!). The older set hung out at Son1's stand selling lemonade and Kool-Aid (no more pretzels), the younger two were semi-loyal to their own raspberry Kool-Aid stand yet wandered. The younger boys were definitely trying to see into Son1's money box to see how their earnings compared, but Son1 wasn't having any of that.

At the end of the day, the younger set made about $1 which they split equally (hmmmmm), and Son1 cleared about $1.50, I think, after the 25c he paid me to wash the cups at the beginning (he forgot) and the 35c he paid another kid for some sort of help. He paid a third helper in lemonade, LOL.

It's been quite an adventure, and despite the big pay dispute and little upsets here and there, the boys have LOVED it! I'm not sure what they're thinking of doing tomorrow. We have a playdate planned here for after school. Hmmm. Maybe the stand will be reinvented once again on Saturday.