Monday, December 31, 2007

Ahhh, New Year's Eve. A time of new beginnings, new hopes, and new ideas. We're going to a black-and-white-attire masquerade party tonight. It starts at 8pm, but I'm working til 9, so B is leaving the kids there, picking me up, and we'll be back there by 9:30. He made spinach dip inside a round sourdough loaf to bring tonight. This is with the dance company, and it's at the studio, so the kids will be hanging out with lots of friends to bring in the new year.

They are still having a blast with the Gamecube. B ordered some more games for them (they're cheap since Gamecube isn't really sold anymore, woohoo) and they're loving it. The girls and I played Mad Gabs agian today and it was just as funny as the other day. B is out buying those masquerade masks that the kids will decorate when they get home and wear tonight. I'm trying to straighten up a bit and then get ready for work soon. The tree and decorations are coming down tomorrow and then this place will get a good mopping. This was a nice holiday season. I think 2008 will be a fantastic year (8 is my lucky number). 2007 wasn't bad, though. The kids have been happy and healthy, and school and homeschool has been awesome so far.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

We've never been much of a video game family. We had something called "Pico" when K was 2 - which surprisingly lasted until W was 2, an old Nintendo and Sega system from before I got married, and the kids all had (have) DS'es. We weren't interested in Playstation or XBox or Wii. But last year I caved and bought them a Gamecube - it was relatively cheap and they had played it at a friend's house and loved it. Then after a couple of months they broke one of the wires and it's been like that since 2 days ago. New cord, new fascination. Wow. And they are so GOOD at it. What is it with kids and video games? And especially homeschooled kids? So many homeschoolers even make careers out of gaming! I mean, I can kick anyone's ass at Ms. Pacman, but a career out of these candy store games was unheard of among my peers. Technology today is certainly amazing, though. We have access to things now never before imagined. I wonder if this will become something my kids would like to excel at and pursue further. Interesting. I'm curious to see where this takes them.

This has been a weird week. J had such a big day planned yesterday. Dance rehearsal was from 1-2, a private sewing class from 2:30-4 (she got a sewing machine for Christmas and needed to learn how to use it - and make a first project), and a sleepover birthday party that started at 5. A stomach virus that started in the wee early morning hours that day put an end to any Friday plans. Instead she slept all day, only waking to puke and drink tea. Poor thing. K had the same virus a few days before, so I should have known. She's fine today, but I'm nervous about the rest of us getting it.

So we decided to get a second car. My work hours are about to change in the next couple of months and the lack of babysitters, B's work schedule, and J's dance schedule all prompted us to that decision. I'm looking for something used in the $1500 range. Say a prayer for us that this works out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


So, I had to work on Christmas Eve (thank you Mr. Scrooge) but I was able to change my hours from 6pm-9pm to 11am-2pm. Woohoo! My mom came and picked up the kids around 9am, drove them out to Long Island, took them to breakfast, took them ice skating, and back to the house to make cookies. The girls went next door to their friend's house for a while, too. After work I did a little bit of last minute shopping, came home, wrapped for 2 hours with B, and drove out to mom's.

Christmas Eve was great being with my family. We had a nice dinner (seafood and pasta catered from a nearby restaurant) and nice desserts. We all had new Christmas pajamas, too! After everyone was asleep I had a great time hanging out with my sister, drinking wine, and doing last minute wrapping. (hi shell!)

Christmas Morning was one of the best ever. The kids made out very well this year. Between their parents and grandparents, everything they wanted was pretty much covered. K's favorite gift was a coat from American Eagle. J's favorite was a purple Razor moped. W's favorite was a cool "Avenue Q"-type puppet kind of like THIS ONE. Oh and my favorite, EyeClops (hand-held, lit, 200x magnifyer, connected to the tv). We spent today looking at our hair, skin, up our noses, in our ears, at pennies, the rug, and our teeth. Everything so far has been really disgusting that close up. We drove over to my sister's house Christmas afternoon for a great dinner (and more presents, lol). We packed everyone up by 5:30pm and headed back to the city to go to MIL's. More family, more desserts, more presents. I was wiped out by then, but catching up with family we don't see often perked me right up.

Today K went out with friends and J, W, and I played. Besides the EyeClops, we played a game called "Mad Gab" which is so weird, we laughed nonstop. The kids played with the old Game Cube (B picked up a new plug which the kids broke like 9 months ago, so now it's like new to them, lol) and loaded up songs on their new iPods. I made a vow to myself (like I do every year) to get this apartment super organized like never before. So, I'm starting early, before Jan 1st, and today got rid of all the bags, paper, and garbage we brought home. Tomorrow I'm doing the laundry, dishes, bathroom, and refrigerator. Then Friday I'm cleaning out the car and the bedrooms. That's my New Year's Resolution.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

J and I were up and out at 7am to go to rehearsal for a NJ Nets game! Her performance team did a 10-minute number for the pre-show (that's her front and center). We drove an hour to NJ for rehearsal at 8:30am. They finished around 1pm. Call was for 5:50pm so we got to hang out together all day. We went to a nice shopping center, had lunch, and bought stuff in Borders (can't keep away, help me) and AC Moore (acrylic paint and cookie cutters for ornaments we're making tomorrow). We got to IZOD stadium early and J got dressed and did her makeup and hair. Right after that we drove to the parking garage and met everyone in the lobby of the stadium. The kids went in at 6, we went in at 6:30, and they performed at 7:05pm. I ran down to the front to take pictures. They were so great!! J is in the front line for most of this dance. We picked up the kids right after and headed home (not a basketball fan, no need to stay, lol). At home, W loved the read-along books on CD and listened to one right away. Then he and J read together (J wanted the Daring Book for Girls and W got out his Dangerous Book for Boys. I love those, too. I have absolutely no problem with gender stereotyping, ;). Tomorrow is sleeping, cleaning, and last minute prep for Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Something I've been wondering about lately is the idea of grammar school. The more I homeschool my son, the more I don't understand what it's for. It can't be about the learning. It just can't. I was looking at a checklist for first grade and W knows everything on there (very well, I might add) without having been stuck at a desk for hours every day, taking stressful tests, being made to complete homework, being reprimanded by a stranger (I mean teacher) in front of his friends, or having his day completely controlled by someone else. This is what J's schools (3 of them) were like. I remember it fully. Looking back, all that misery was so pointless. W actually learned the entire first grade course of study (and most of the 2nd grade one) through merely being a kid and enjoying his life every day.

What made me ponder this today was something on the checklist called "ordinal numbers". I wasn't sure what kind of numbers that was and looked it up. Oh, ORDER-nal numbers - 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th. Gotcha. I have never even thought to explain that to W. I asked him (a few months ago) if he understood how to count in order and he said, yeah. So I said "first" and he continued with 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. When he got to 28th I said thank you and he was on his way. Schools have lessons, homework, and tests on this, I swear. Just about everything on that first-grade outline are things kids will learn by just being the naturally curious kids that they are. Time, calendar, value of coins, plants, seeds, weather, sun, moon, stars, magnets, good eating habits, dressing for weather and activity(?), holidays, jobs.

After 1st grade, in our experience, the "required learning" for that grade can be done in a fun, gentle, interactive way. If it's not fun or if it doesn't apply to the child's life at that time, it will not be retained. I believe the best learning comes from interactive, hands-on fun, not stressful cram and dump for the test. I see it with K. Her US History teacher is a hip, interesting, fun guy. Their latest project is to work in groups to create a "rapumentary", a rap song about their chosen topic. Now that's interesting. On the other hand her journalism teacher rules with an iron fist, is a miserable nasty bitch (actually insults the kids), and will fail a child's project because it was in the "wrong" black and white notebook. K is so unhappy with this teacher and all of a sudden has no interest in that class - before school started she thought it would be her favorite. It truly breaks my heart.

J is now technically in the 6th grade - and according to the course of study, is at about a 6-8th grade level overall. It's interesting that this was all achieved by her without the unnecessary bullshit forced on schooled kids. Well, what about "socialization"? My kids know how to act around other kids and can function in society very well. I'll assume the real concern is about "socializ-ING" which is a different concept. From the first months of homeschooling J has had a pretty full social calendar. Just as a recent example, next Friday she's going to the movies with her friends, then that night she's got a birthday party, then Saturday a sleepover birthday party. These are real, true, deep friendships, too. But what about sports? the prom? learning an instrument? school trips? No thanks. And since homeschooling has shot through the roof over the past 5 years, all these things are available to us now if we want it.

I guess I just go through periods of wondering. Of course, some parents can't stand being with their kids all day (I've heard this numerous times from other moms - "ugh don't you need to get AWAY from them?"). And other parents have to work during the day. And there is that 30% (arguably) of kids who genuinely like school after 2nd grade. My own dd is one of those. A part of me hates the fact that a main reason schools were made compulsory was to keep the riff-raff off the streets. The other reason was following the Prussian school model of keeping people in their place by indoctrinating obedience in them from a young age. We can't have free thinkers causing conflict and messing up everything. The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto is available free online for everyone to read - the whole thing!

I have become the opposite of a public school parent who shakes their heads and wonders why the hell would anyone homeschool. It's just so wrong. The poor kids. They don't get to experience anything great. They must not have friends. They must be so socially backwards. They need to experience the "real world" (that's got to be my favorite). I mean, homeschooling's main ingredients for success are a curious kid and a dedicated parent in a rich, healthy, safe, fun environment. The kids are able to handle the rest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things are very Christmassy around here. The kids are obsessed with every Christmas show they can find on tv. It's too cold to be outside for too long, but we're still keeping busy.

Today, J did some reading while W read more Dick and Jane to me. He also tried a Syd Hoff book about a caveman. Then J did one of the exercises in the new Daily Sparks book we bought. As promised, it took about 10 minutes and she had fun with it. She had to think of as many words as she could that contained the letters w, h, and e. While she did that, W did a few pages in Writing Words. After that, J's copywork was a Christmas poem by Christina Rosetti and W did some more word practice from 2 different workbooks. J went on to math and did some GCF and LCM stuff. W was done with the table work at that point, but spent the next 15 minutes playing with coins and making pictures out of them. After lunch they blasted the music and danced around the living room (to everything from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to Crank Dat Soulja Boy). Later on, J and I read aloud some Aesops Fables.

They both still enjoy the structure and having a set plan to follow for the mornings - well, at least for that hour or so. J wants to do so much - like Shakespeare and Spanish and sign language and science experiments and art projects and nature walks and weekly trips and history lapbooks and and and... But she's not an early morning person. Table work (reading, writing, math) usually starts around 10 or 11 and by the time it's afternoon, she doesn't want to sit anymore. So, it's time to change it up. J is going to write down all those things she wants to do and every morning she can choose things from the list. They are both starting to really love reading, so they'll start with that for 10 minutes or so, then one or 2 things from the list. Every Sunday, I'll check on all the supplies to make sure we are prepared for whatever they should pick throughout the week. This new plan covers a lot more of their interests and is definitely a lot more fun.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Today J went to the homeschool Art Class. This was the final installment of the Reinterpretation of a Masterpiece. J did hers on a beautiful Van Gogh piece that she did on canvas with acrylics. W and I opted out of it today, so my friend L came to pick J up. Of course, J's painting was nowhere to be found as L was to be here within 10 minutes. We tore the house and car apart looking for it, but never found it. J eventually realized she may have left it at the dance studio. Thakfully it was finished, but she didn't get to present it to the group. She was cool with it, though. She still saw all her friends and hung out for several hours there.

W and I went to Barnes and Noble (maybe one day I'll control that insatiable urge to buy the whole store). I picked up some cool activity books for W and something called "Daily Sparks" for J. This is a 10-minute-activity-a-day book. She loves that stuff. I got one on writing and one on spelling/grammar. W got a Highlights Hidden Pictures book and on on drawing dinosaurs. I also found a book called "Stories from Shakespeare". It's a retelling of the plays that makes Shakespeare a bit more interesting for the kids. J had the interest, so I felt this was a great introduction to what his plays are about. Then I'll buy the actual plays for her after reading these together.

LO-freakin'-L. Nothing like a great stereotype video. Enjoy!


(thanks to Pat from MDC)

Friday, December 14, 2007

This week we did a lot of organizing and straightening up. We also did a bunch of food shoping and "stuff" shopping. I'm just about done with buying presents and we'll do all our wrapping by next week. J and W have been playing wonderfully together - everything from board games, to art projects, to dolls. W doesn't care. He'll join in with his sister on anything. W's been reading a lot this week, too. If I'm reading, he'll read out loud over my shoulder. He's loving it.

Thursday we went to the Queens Museum of Art with the homeschool group for a fantastic tour of the Panorama of New York City and a fun project. We used to go a lot a couple of years ago for their Sunday drop-in art workshop and were so happy to have the same guy running our tour. It was a sleety yucky day, but we still had a great turnout - 17 kids and all the parents and younger sibs were invited along! They're renovating parts of the place now, so I'd like to get back there when they're done. I'm planning on taking the kids to a lot more museums and cultural events once the new year comes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

W read several Dick and Jane stories to me this morning. K was shocked at how well he was reading (she stayed home from school with a bad cold today). I was so proud of him. The words repeat a lot in that book, so he read mostly by recognizing sight words (said, what, something, mother, father, come) and the rest he sounded out. If he got stuck on a word I reminded him of letter blend sounds and he would get it. He is much better with larger blends like "ing" and "ight" than sounding out individual letters of smaller words. He reads pretty fast now and understands and remembers what the story is about. He's defintitely over another huge hump with reading. He also did 6 pages in Writing Words (words ending in nt, mp, nd, and nk, and words starting with ch, sh, wh, and th). For math he filled out most of a chart counting to 100 and practiced writing the numbers' words ("one" "two" "three", etc).

While W was reading to me, J was in her room reading a novel. We set the timer for 15 minutes and she wanted to keep reading when time was up. She's had a hatred of reading since Kindergarten when she had to sit in the back of the classroom and read (and do book reports) by herself. Before that she'd been reading all the time from when she was almost-3. It was sad to see her change like that. Since homeschooling, she reads every now and then, but prefers me to read to her. She will do tons of reading and writing on the computer, though - she's always researching something or someone. But to see her pick up a book was great. She copied a poem called To Daffodils by Robert Herrick and read it to me. Math was multiplication and long division in the 6th grade book. This year math is focusing on mastering the basics.

After that, I read the kids a myth called Proserpina and Pluto. Part of what the kids want every day are readalouds of fables and mythology. I picked up a couple of great big hardcover books the other day (from the bargain shelf and with educator's discount! Woohoo!) - The Children's Treasury of Mythology and Aesop's for Children. K loved the story - she was in the kitchen and I didn't even think she was paying attention, lol, but she gave me a "Keep going!!" when I stopped for a second. I still wish K was home with us. Part of me gets sad when she can't join us when we go places. As far as the new homeschool schedule, we're doing the same stuff we've always done and we're going to try to add a new "subject" every few days or every week. No stress. It's about how the kids want to do it. It's so nice to have the freedom to tailor an education to your own child.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas in NYC

Today we met up with another hs mom and her son to go to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab on Madison Avenue. We got on the subwayat 10:15 and arrived at 59th and 5th in less than 10 minutes. Since we were supposed to meet our friends at 11, we had time to stop in FAO Schwartz. I've always enjoyed this store. Being one of the biggest toy stores we've ever seen, the kids LOVED it. Everything is larger than life in there, from the Lego people, to the stuffed animals, to the big floor piano (you saw one in the movie "Big"). W did the piano, created new animals from a trough of different parts, flew an airplane, watched a man do a Rubiks Cube in under 2 minutes, and both kids tried out slidey carpet skating.

The Sony Wonder Lab was really cool. They let 15 people in at a time, you get a card that registers your name, picture and voice. You swipe this card at each "station" which makes everything you do totally personalized. We learned about the history of technology, from the first photographs to the latest in computers and hi-def imagery. They tried out television cameras, video games on huge screens, sending their voices into outer space, and learned about news reports and weather stations during a hurricane, voice recognition with phonetic symbols, and so much more. We said goodbye to our friends when we were done and continued on walking around Manhattan.

We had streetcart hotdogs and iced tea for lunch and walked over to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza. We took a few pictures and watched the ice skaters for a little while. Across the street we saw the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas windows. There are 6 big windows full of animatronic scenes. Then it was over to the American Girl Place again (we were there in August). J loves it there, so of course we had to go in. She was salivating over the new "Ivy Ling" doll and then sat and perused a few AG books. When we left there, we walked a few blocks to the ginormous Disney Store and had a blast seeing all 3 floors of stuff.

The city was crowded and loud and chock full of tourists, but still my favorite place in the world. The way every store decks their halls is just breathtaking and really puts you right in the Christmas mood. And to top eveything all off, it was lightly snowing and yet pretty warm out (maybe like 40 degrees). J said today was probably the best time she's ever had in Manhattan. W and I agreed!

It was a busy week so far. Wednesday we spent the day at the mall. I got some Christmas shopping done and the kids all got to hang out in their favorite stores (The Pet Store, Sharper Image, Dylan's Candy Shop) and go on the carousel. Yesterday, the homeschool group went on a trip to the Queens County Farm Museum where we had a class on quilting. We then made our own (yes, I made one too!) quilt designs on a piece of white fabric and got a nice tour of the farm. It's the oldest working farm (and only one like it left) in NYC. I've been meaning to get there for years. So glad we got to go.

Pictures! I couldn't find my digital camera, so I bought a cheapo disposable one. Only half the pics came out and they look all grainy, but at least we got something. And in case you've been wondering, yes, I do take normal pics of the kids where you can see their faces. We just do some with the blog pose too, lol!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The weekend was relaxing. On Saturday I worked, J had dance, K went over a friend's house, and B and W ran errands. Sunday the kids had CCD and W had basketball. Monday J went on a homeschool group trip to the DNA Learning Center in Nassau. The kids did DNA Extraction from harmless bacteria, spent an hour in the computer lab, and delved into The Mystery of Anastasia using forensic techniques to identify the remains of the Russian royal family, and the missing princess Anastasia Romanov. Then they got to have a full tour of the Biomedical Facilities. J and I checked out this website before we went: It's great! We loved the section in Applications called "Recovering the Romanovs". It was just fascinating.

J asked if we could please remember to do what's on our schedule every day - and maybe now we can add more things to it. So, we discussed what she liked and didn't like, how she wanted to go about it, and looked at a bunch of websites and other homeschoolers' schedules online. She still enjoys Charlotte Mason and was particularly intrigued by a schedule from a website called Mater Amabilis. It's a Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum. So we wrote down things we liked from that and coupled it with what she liked from before and came up with a brand new daily schedule that she's very happy with. She says 2 hours every morning is perfect. I ran it by W and he said he liked it too. So I created a new schedule for him based on hers. Once again, they are excited to get on it. This is how it goes when the kids direct their own education. I bet if I demanded they have a schedule and chose what I wanted to do with them all day, they would fight me to no end.

This morning they started out painting with watercolors. W's been begging me to buy him modeling clay ("NOT Play-Doh!!"), instead, I suggested making our own. I found a recipe using cornstarch, water, and salt. It came out pretty good and they played with it for over an hour, took a 20 minute break to dance around the living room to Christmas music, and went right back to the clay. After lunch we'll try a bit of the new schedule and see how it goes. I love homeschooling!

And here are the totally-me results of this personality quiz. Innately I am a structured, logical, high-energy, realistic leader. And the longer we homeschool, the more I notice the kids have these traits in them as well. Cool.

You Are An ESTJ

The Guardian

You're a natural leader and quick, logical decision maker.
Goals are important in your life, and you take many steps to acheive them.
You enjoy interacting with others, mostly through work related activities.
Your high energy level means you are great at getting things done!

In love, you tend to bring stability to relationships.
You feel comfortable being in charge, and you enjoy being a provider.

At work, you take charge. You thrive in structured environments and don't mind enforcing the rules.
You would make a great teacher, judge, or police detective.

How you see yourself: Realistic, stable, and pragmatic