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The January Freak Out

The girls playing Club Penguin 
A fellow Gabby Mom Blogger posted that she experiences The January Freak Out every year.  You know, that time of year when you wake up in the middle of the night wondering:  "What if I'm not doing this right?"  "Should I add grammar?"  "Am I ruining my kids for life by not teaching them about (fill in the blank) this year?"

Well, by now I hope you know me well enough to know that I don't do the shoulds or worry much, but I do find myself rethinking things each year.  I think we all do.  Sometimes my Freak Out doesn't hit until spring.  But this year, I am having a January Freak Out of my own.

For starters, computer time has gotten seriously out of control around here.  First the girls got everyone into Pixie Hollow, the Disney Fairies online game.  And then Huntz introduced them to Club Penguin (also Disney).  The games are fun and they really enjoy them.  Educational value is next to nothing, except that the girls are wanting to be able to read better so they can understand what is going on in the game.  So I am now dolling out computer time in exchange for other, more obviously educational things.

For example, the girls must each do their reading before getting time on the computer.  (And, it goes without saying that this can only happen when all their chores are done).   I also got composition books with cool covers at Staples for $ .50 each, and each child is expected to write a page each day.  About anything.  Even about how much they loathe writing in their journal.  So far, each has started a story and is enjoying continuing it each day.  I don't require them to worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation.  It's just to get them writing.  Oh, and it doesn't have to be neat, just legible.

Jor Man is wonderful about reading, so I don't ask him to complete any before playing.  But he needs to get his writing done.  The girls thought this wasn't fair, and I reminded them, for the umpteenth time, that life isn't fair, and they will never be studying the same things as their brother, so get over it.  It won't be the same.

So far, Sher Bear is just writing words, Campster has a princess story going, and Jor Man is writing a greek myth.  Huntz has not been at the house since the "crack down" so he's in for a surprise when he comes back!

Yup.  That's it.  That's me cracking down.  LOL!  It seemed like a big deal at the time, but now writing it, it's not.  The kids have gotten into the swing of things, and I feel better about having something to show the "officials" should it ever come to that.

Oh, and attitudes.  We are working on some major attitude adjustments.  Some negative, whiny, sorry-for-myself attitudes have crept into our home.  We are remodeling them.  Prayer, discussions, correction, and encouragement are all part of this.  A child, who shall remain nameless, was caught cheating at Killer Bunnies the other day.  Said child was immediately taken out of the game, and not allowed to play the next afternoon when we had game day at church.  Initially this child denied any wrong doing, and was in quite a huff about it.

But by the next day, the same child was overheard telling a friend, "I can't play because I cheated yesterday.  Boy, this stinks not being able to play.  I'll never do that again."  Well, I am not holding my breath, but I am encouraged by the change in attitude.  I'll take attitude over academics any day.

Wish you were here!

True Treasures Review

I have signed on for a dangerous assignment:  Reviewing books.

I say dangerous because I honestly don't know what all will be sent my way to read.  But, being the adventurous woman that I am, I have agreed to review one book a month for 2011.  I received this product for honest review from TEACH Magazine as a part of The Gabby Moms blogging program.  All opinions expressed are solely my own.

The first book, True Treasures, is a compilation of "the best" articles from ten years of TEACH Magazine.  For those of you not familiar with TEACH Magazine, the acronym stands for "To Encourage And Challenge Homemakers".  Well, I like the encouraging part!  But I'll admit I had a tough time with the challenging part.  TEACH Magazine was recently renamed "Eternal Encouragement" which I much prefer!  The book is very lovely.  Although I must point out that, unlike the picture below, the book is not hardcover, and it is not thick.  But it is full of articles!

Two things came to mind as I was reading the 100 pages of articles.  First, I was reminded how tiresome it is to be made to read something.  Granted, no one was making me read it.  I could have emailed and taken myself out of the group.  But I feel that I made a commitment and I want to stick to it.  It's been a long time since I have had "homework" and an "assignment".  It was good for me to see how it feels to be on the receiving end of such work.  Not great!  I let myself feel overwhelmed and upset.  (LOL!)  This was a good reminder to me that I want to be helping my children to find things to read that they love and want to read.  Reading something just because someone else says you need to can really zap the joy out of reading.  And I find it is much more difficult to remember what I've read if I am not as interested in it.  Having the deadline, I did not take my time and savor the great articles.  Now that I am done with the review, I will enjoy reading it leisurely and getting more out of it.  Once I got over my initial poor reaction, I did enjoy reading it very much.  (Note to self:  Start the next book much earlier!)

Secondly, I was struck by the language.  As I've said before, I don't like shoulds.  Here and there in various articles, there was a fair sprinkling of MSG.  You know, Manipulation, Shame and Guilt.  I love to be encouraged.  I really dislike being told I should be like this, or a good wife (or mother, or friend, or Christian) is like so.  I am thinking about how to apply that to my parenting.  

Okay, now that I have utterly convinced you not to read this book, let me change my focus.  There are plenty of wonderful, encouraging articles in "True Treasures".  And it is truly worthwhile to read the whole book and glean those encouragements and tips and tricks.  I admired the transparency of "Confessions of a Former Doormat" by Jennifer TeGrotenhuis.  "Yippee, It's STILL Free!" by Mrs. Lorrie Flem gives a wonderful list of websites giving out free homemaking and homeschooling resources.  I could really put the housekeeping suggestions to good use!  And I will touch base with Sher Bear regarding "7 Ways to Break the Breakfast Blahs".  There's even a recipe for granola!

There are sections on marriage, parenting, homemaking, homeschooling, and godly living.    The tips, tricks and encouragement from Christian moms who have gone before us is invaluable.  Older women are told to teach the younger (Titus 2).  This is what this book is all about.  Lastly, I was tickled to see authors whose names I recognized:  Cindy Rushton, Cyndi Kinney, and Marilyn Boyer.  

It will be interesting to see what book they send me to review for February.  I hope you can tell from this review that I will give my most honest opinion, the good and the bad.

TEACH Magazine (now Eternal Encouragement) can be found at  www.HomemakingWithTEACH.com .  My readers can buy "True Treasures" and get $4 off with the coupon code "GabbyMom"  through May 31, 2011.  

Wish you were here!

Skiing for the First Time, Ever

Sher Bear tries on her new long johns, hat and mittens
Ever since we moved from Sunny Southern California to New England, I've been hearing about the wonderful homeschool skiing program at Otis Ridge.  This was the first year that we tried it - in fact, it's the first time any of the kids have ever skied.

Such a deal:  It was $85 per child for 6 weeks of lessons (once a week), rentals, and lift tickets.  And while it is over an hour drive from our home, it is worth it.

Thanks to my Mom, who gave the kids the lessons for their Christmas gifts (at my request).  At first the kids were equal parts apprehensive and excited.   But as the day drew near, and we began organizing the "stuff" and getting ready, the excitement was winning out.

Everyone had new long johns for the occasion, and several got new gloves or hats.  The night before, we laid everything out on the beds to be certain no one was missing any important items.

Huntz on skis for the first time
On that morning, we got up early and had a good breakfast before suiting up and driving out to Otis, MA.  I gave myself extra time to get there, because it was my first time driving out to Otis, and the country roads can make everything take longer than one might think.

Campster flying down the bunny hill
I was amazed by the shear number of homeschoolers who were there for the lessons.  Because it was closer to Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA, there were a lot more kids there than we were used to seeing at a homeschooling event.

Getting checked in was a bit tedious, as was getting skis and boots for  the kids, and trying everything on.  But once the kids were all properly equipped, we headed outside where the real fun began.

Jor Man has the hang of it
Campster, Huntz and Jor Man, going around in circles

At first, they had all the beginners wear only one ski and go around in a circle to get the hang of it.  I'd never seen so many kids staring down at their feet!  Funny!

It was difficult for me to watch Sher Bear struggle with her skis, but soon I turned to my friend, realizing my tendency to hover, and we made a break for the lodge.  Better to let the professionals teach the skiing.  I don't ski anyhow.  I wouldn't have anything truly helpful to add.

I was surprised, and a little disappointed to find that from there the kids were basically left to their own devices.  At various points all the kids fell into ditches or just tipped over and couldn't get up.  It was hard watching them, and seeing no one was coming to their rescue.

Eventually, everyone did get up on their own, and learned something in the process.  As much as I am all for kids learning on their own, I guess I still want a little more instruction when it comes to skiing.  What do you think?

In the end, Campster and Jor Man really took to skiing.  Both skied from 10 am until 3 pm, and then left only on my urging.  They flew down the hills and absolutely loved it.

Huntz had a more difficult time, but seemed to enjoy himself.  I believe he will get the hang of it this week, and be skiing with the others.

Sher Bear (who apparently takes after her mom) much preferred being warm in the lodge, drinking hot cocoa and eating chili cheese fries following her one hour lesson.

To kill time waiting for the "big kids", Sher Bear and I played the Thankful Game from "My ABC Bible Verses" and I allowed her to use my digital camera to take some pictures.

In preparation for the next lesson, we went to the library and checked out some children's books on skiing.    I am also looking for some videos to watch with them (preferably ones without big crashes or tragedies).  I am also getting helmets for each child.  (I kept thinking of Sonny Bono as they came flying down the hill.)

Sher Bear, in full gear, tries one ski
Knowing how afraid I am of skiing, I didn't want to pass that on to the kids.  Recently, I was telling my mom how much I love thunder storms, and she confessed that she was always terribly afraid of them.  I never knew.

I am thrilled that the kids seem to take after Big Dad in their love of skiing and their athletic abilities.  I called him from the lodge with tears in my eyes, and said, "You really ought to take next Thursday off and come see the kids ski.  You won't believe it."

They are growing up!

Wish you were here!

Always be Prepared to Give an Answer

I have a New Year's Resolution:  To have an answer ready when people ask about what we are studying in our homeschool.  As often as I get asked that, I still stumble over my answer.

Some people just want to know that my kids are learning something.  Other people are just being kind and making pleasant conversation.  And still others are really curious about homeschool for themselves and would like to know that it is not as difficult as they imagine.

Usually, I really do know which is which.  I know when telling someone that we just "wing-it" at my house, would set off every internal alarm they have, rending them a tad bit argumentative.  And I can usually tell when someone is just being nice, and doesn't really want my treatise on the state of the failed public education system.

And there are the occasionally truly curious people who really want the full answer.  But, alas, they are few and far between.

And I have been treating them all the same.  Ask me a dixie cup sized question, and I will douse you with a whole pitcher full of answer.  Hmmm.  Why is it that I work so hard to let my children be delight-led in their learning, but with everyone else, I bring out the sledge hammer?

So here's my new answer:  Jor Man is studying Ancient Greece.  Sher Bear is fascinated by Ancient Egypt.  Campster is concentrating on her reading skills.  Huntz is reinforcing his times tables, and doing science experiments.  And we are all working on kindness.  That seems to be the theme of the new year.

It's still not a short answer, but I like how I didn't have to explain how we got there.  If someone wanted to know more, I could explain that the kids are all starting skiing lessons today, and the boys are beginning their electric guitar and drum lessons tonight.  Oh, and next week, we will begin our study of Jewish holidays.

That feels much better to me.  People don't always want to know my whole educational theory.  That's okay.  I don't have to explain myself to everyone.  (Just you readers!)

What's your "short-ish" answer for what your homeschool is studying right now?

Wish you were here!

Reading is a Super Power!

Halloween 2008, Camster as Ariel with "red" hair
There are two things you should know about Campster.  Both are recent changes for her.

The first is that, while she used to be a blond, she is now a red head.  Really.  She has wanted to be a red head since she could say red head.  She's been very consistent about it.  And, as providence would have it, she's got the right coloring for it, just not the "right" hair color.

Two years ago for Halloween she was Ariel, the Little Mermaid.  And she wanted very much to have red hair for that.  So we dyed her hair using a semi-permanent (washes out in 28 shampoos) hair color and only left it in for a few minutes.  The result was barely noticeable, but was definitely red when the light hit is just right.  She was thrilled.

Campster emptying her stocking.  Note the dye, left
Fast forward to this Christmas:  Campster again was asking for red hair dye, and Big Dad thought that Santa ought to oblige her.  So guess what she got in her stocking.

We used the exact same dye as last time.  But, for whatever reason, (poor judgment, bad memory, living on the wild side), I left it in longer this time.  Now her hair is truly, really red.  Thankfully, she loves it again, and has vowed not to shampoo so that it will stay that way.

Okay, now for the second change.  She's a reader.  For Christmas, she got "Come Back, Amelia Bedilia" and before any of us could read it to her, she decided to read it herself.  And she did.  She went from sounding out each and every word, excruciatingly slowly, to reading this book with no problem.  She even read words and phrases she's never encountered before.  It was amazing.  This from my kid who told me the one thing she did not want to do this year was learn to read.

Campster's new red hair!
I wish you could have seen her face.  She was so proud of herself.  "Mom!  Dad!" she would shout, "I'm reading! It's like I have a super power!  I can read!  Reading IS a super power!"  She proclaimed.

And she's right about that.  Reading is a super power.  It changes everything.  Now that she knows she can read, there's been no stopping her.  She's not attempted a chapter book yet, but I'm sure that will happen soon enough.  She's reading every street sign, every magazine cover (uh oh!) and everything she sees.

So, for my red headed super hero reader, 2011 is going to be a super exciting year!

Wish you were here!


Clockwise, from the left, Sher-Bear, Big Dad, Campster, Jor Man and Huntz - all hard at work on thank yous
Christmas is over.  The tree is down, and all the trimmings put away.  Time for thank yous!
Stamps are a fun way to decorate a thank you

Do your kids moan like mine when you ask them to write a thank you note?  This year we combatted the moany-groanies with a couple of new strategies.  First of all, we all sat down at the table and wrote our thank yous together.  Modeling the behavior you wish to see in your children is always a helpful step.

Secondly, we told them that any gift without a thank you would be put away until next year.  Perhaps next year they will feel more thankful for it! Happily, no gifts were confiscated this year.

Everyone wrote and then decorated their thank yous with drawings and colorful stamps.

Campster using her spelling book while writing her thank yous
Another new strategy we implemented was the spelling book.  Each child was given a spiral bound note card book, and any time they asked how a word was spelled, we wrote it in the book with a Sharpie marker.

Lastly, we wrote up a mock letter as an example to the children.  We emphasized that this was just the start of a thank you, but it gave them an opportunity to learn parts of a letter.

Being thankful, really grateful for what we have, is a short cut to happiness.

Wish you were here!

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