Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wet Chickens

This post has absolutely nothing to do with homeschooling - it's an 'outlier' post! I think it's important to have the occasional outlier in everything that IS. Take a look at the quilts the Amish construct - the women often place an 'out-of-whack' block in their quilts, and I think that's cool. Like there's a little sense of humor that got sewn in to the making of that quilt.

So. Yesterday we worked on the final stages of our chicken coop extravaganza. It's been eight weeks of digging, pounding, staining, painting, cutting - lots of 'ing'ing going on. The fenced run is done, so we finally reached the stage where we got to cut the hole in the coop to allow the chicks to come and go as they please. No more carrying them back and forth! Eleven chickens equals eleven trips back and forth; and mind you, some of those chickens are really hard to catch now that they have room to spread their wings. Carrying two chickens at once doesn't bode well for the handler, either. I've tried it and have opted to concentrate on one bird at a time. That little devil, Charlotte, is the hardest one to catch! She and I eye each other warily whenever I am out in the yard; it's like she knows. The chicks are 8 weeks old today.

The door was cut, but naturally, as with all projects that we've ever embarked upon, we were missing that ONE thing that would finish the task. We need a hook and eye combo so that we can secure the door open during the day and shut at night to keep intruders out. So, the door was left hanging in a semi-shut position until we could run to the Depot or Lowes and get that ONE thing. My hubby and Max left mid afternoon to get Max to a friend's house and right after they left, it started pouring. The skies opened up with the kind of rain where you are completely soaked to the toes in 30 seconds.

The chickens! I grabbed an umbrella (silly me, it didn't come in handy) and ran down to the fenced yard. Even though I had a tarped area set up that served as their temporary fence, the chickens were huddled in a group out in the open with necks stretched up, trying to determine exactly what the heck was happening. They were frozen in place, and therefore fairly easy to grab, thank goodness. Trying to grab a chicken one-handed while using the other hand to hold the umbrella proved stupid, so I tossed the umbrella. Up until yesterday I'd had pretty good weather luck. The skies are open enough so that you can see what's coming; if it looked like rain, I'd go down and casually gather everybody up and stick them in the coop until the storm passed. This one caught me by surprise.

Meanwhile, the sky above me was pretty active! Flashes of lightning followed by the big SCUZZZWHACK! of thunder. Right overhead. The thought that I may not make it back into the house crossed my mind. Lightning strikes in New Mexico are something to take seriously. But my chickens were getting drenched! As quickly as I could I took each chick and tossed her (gently) into the coop through the newly cut door opening. They were clearly bugged about the whole being wet issue, not really understanding why they were so bugged. Chickens, in case you haven't heard, are really not very bright. Maybe I'm not really very bright for having gone down there to rescue them in a lightning storm.

We have a very tiny chick named Lucy who has something called 'runting and stunting syndrome'. She is about half the size, maybe less, of the other chicks, even though she shares the same hatch date. I believe it's caused by an avian virus that affects food absorption and shows up in flocks now and then. Her feathers have been slow to grow. I couldn't stand the sight of her huddled up and shivering, so I brought her in the house and used the blow dryer to warm her up. She LOVED the experience - lifted up her little wings and waddled toward me for more. It was very cute, and a little crazy on my part.

Later on I checked on everybody and the girls all sparkled! Shiny, fluffy feathers after their unfortunate forced bath. They all looked great. And I lived to tell the tale.

Guess where we're off to today? Lowes to get that hook and eye contraption to secure the door open. I really do wonder, though, if they will have enough sense to go inside when the weather is bad? Time will tell :).

Just another chicken experience with a happy ending. Does anyone else out there have chickens?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Daily Sheets of Fun and Wonder

In an effort to inject a little fun into each morning for Max, I just got finished creating some daily logs in Word on the computer. We're heading into fifth grade this year and I'm hoping that Max will get more and more comfortable working independently this year. I'm trying to provide lots of structure for him to help him along.

I made some logs wherein I can fill one out the night before and set it out on the table for Max to look at the next morning, maybe while he's munching on his cereal. They are titled in big letters, "Max's Daily Sheets of Fun and Wonder". I scoured Google images and looked for very fun and very silly images of the things he loves and put those images in the upper left hand corner, a different image for each sheet to keep him laughing and interested. He likes Bey Blades right now, so there's a picture of the Bey Blade characters. He LOVES Legos, so there are several different images depicting Star Wars mini Lego figures doing crazy things like riding miniature motorcycles, flying kites, throwing snowballs at one another, etc. Whatever I could think of, I pasted up in the left-hand corner.

Then there is a section of legal fine print and it reads as such: "all school work and help around the house must be completed before you play with electronics, see friends, or watch Netflix. Signed, The Management (a.k.a., MOM and DAD).

Below that there are big check boxes next to a line on which to write the school assignment or the household task. I really should make some of these for myself to keep me on track - maybe I will! What Google images would I choose? Pictures of dark chocolate bars, bright colors, flower shots, cartoons, chickens........

Hopefully they will elicit a smile from Max each morning, rather than a grimace thinking about spelling or math or what-have-you. At least it will be more of a fun and gentle introduction into the day's happenings. I think it's important and way more fun to sprinkle in little bits of silliness here and there during the homeschooling day. We are getting set to start on Monday! Back in the saddle.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Maybe Parents Should Just Say No

Just read a great post titled 'Back to School Hell' by a dad who is grappling with the whole supply lists that schools are handing out right about now. He simply can't believe how much stuff the schools are asking him to purchase so that his child can get educated within the system. While reading his post, as humorous and as true as he nailed it, I had a thought. Why don't parents just say no to these lists? Why don't parents group together and demand that the public school system figure out a better way to manage the money that is given to it?

I mentioned in a recent post that our neighborhood school erected a splashy new electronic sign out front to the tune of $25,000. Schools all over Albuquerque are getting major face lifts, too - some serious architectural restructuring. Not just paint and stucco. The whole shebang. Sure, it's nice to have a nice building to look at and hang out in, but teachers are underpaid and parents are having to shell out lots of dollars to supply the classrooms with the BASICS. Guess I'm feeling heated about this, huh?

I'm wondering why parents are dutifully running to Target or Wal-Mart to purchase all of those supplies. I'm wondering why I did it. I did it bitterly, mind you. The whole time I was walking those aisles I was grumbling to myself about this and that. Maybe I should have just sat down to calmly write a letter to the school and school board and tell them that I flatly refuse to pay homage to the supply list. I could write that letter now, but it wouldn't hold any weight since we are homeschooling. Missed opportunity!

Maybe parents do it because they think they have to? Do they? Does it have something to do with still needing to please an authority figure? Is it fear-based - that somehow a child will get in trouble for not bringing in supplies? I'm just trying to figure it out. I saw umpteen sets of parents and children wandering those aisles at Target over the past several weeks. Had I been in a different frame of mind, I would have interviewed them and asked them about their thoughts.

I'm just observing behaviors and wondering about them. Why do we do the things we do? Sometimes I think we need to break out of the mold and go our own way. This might be one of those times. We parents are good at saying no to other things (mostly things our children claim they can't live without), so why can't we say no to a school system? What do you think?

Friday, August 20, 2010

On the Hunt for Historical Fiction

I enjoy hunting (gasp!); the "catch" is ALWAYS inanimate, though. I'm too much of a softy to consider the alternative. I grew up amidst a family of Midwestern hunters and struggled with emotions when the 'prize buck' was brought in every fall. Although, my family did utilize nearly every ounce of the animal for food and leather products, I still blanched and ran for the hills when the trucks came pulling into the yard bearing those carcasses. On principle, I rarely ate the venison. The roots for vegetarianism were planted at a very young age; it was the first of this year that I finally went 'cold turkey' on meat. No more cold turkey! It's been a great foodie year, learning about produce and other sources of protein.

Taking a closer look, though, shows that I am a contradiction in terms on many subjects. My views are rarely neutral and I could have a big time running with some bumper stickers that just plain don't make sense. Internal and external forces serve to hone us throughout our lives; the information we glean helps to polish us all into shiny specimens and this process, for me, appears to run in yearly cycles. This is the year of food. Last year was the year of photography and homeschooling. A year of barn building and remodeling. A year of animal husbandry. I hope the same sorts of passions for Max as he grows and wonders about our world. By default he's been thrust into the middle of some of my intellectual sojourns, but I see mostly smiles on his face as a result. He only grimaces occasionally when I do things like experiment with eggplant and curry and pizza! Max and my husband are still meat eaters to some extent, but I'm picky about the sources of meat. My reasons for choosing vegetarianism have to do with the way corporate America treats the animals in their care. Those animals suffer unspeakable horrors and I won't knowingly support that. I'm picky about most things if you get right down to it. I spend time marveling at the myriad and wonderful choices we Americans have and try to keep that in perspective, too.

Back to hunting - this time it's for some good historical fiction that we can read together this year; our emphasis for 5th grade is going to be on American history/geography and I'm hoping that we can forego the 'romanticized' version that was fed to me while I was in elementary school. The truth is out there somewhere and I would at least like Max to have an understanding of this concept. I've discovered several books, have placed them on the long list and will narrow them down to a short list as I research them a little further.

He is already signed up for a history through literature class that will cover six books the first semester - maybe these will be sufficient, but I'd like to have a few others to choose from. These will be books that we'll read aloud over the year so I can get in on the action, too. Can't say that we'll read all of these (unlikely), but I like having a go-to list of great literature for the times we want to switch things up.

So herein begins my list. Brace yourself, because I haven't started culling yet. The tricky part is going to be narrowing these down by time period - we could spend the whole year just learning about pioneers! Can't forget about the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights movement, the World Wars, Wright brothers, the Titanic, the Great Depression, not to mention what happened yesterday historically for the US! We could be here awhile. Not possible to cover it all, I know. But a good sprinkling is going to be the goal.
First, Wanda Miller's resource books below. Thank you, Ms. Miller! She lists great historical fiction in chronological order according to the time period they describe. By all means, find these at your library and use them as a compass if you, too, are looking to make history come alive.

U.S. History Through Children's Literature: From the Colonial Period to World War II
This book offers historical literature selections covering Native Americans up through WWII. Approximately fifty-nine books are suggested for the nine time periods which are as follows: Native Americans, Exploration, American Revolution & Constitution, Slavery & Civil War, Pioneer Life & Westward Expansion, Immigration, Industrial Revolution, WWI, and WWII. I love that she has done much of the hunting and gathering already!

Her second book covers American history post WWII: The Korean War, Civil Rights Movement, The Women's Rights Movement, Space Exploration, The Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. Some forty-two books are detailed.

Here are some others that have been recommended by various other sources:

Johnny Tremain
American Revolution

Bud, Not Buddy (Readers Circle (Laurel-Leaf))
1930's. Four-hundred-eighty-five 41/2 star ratings

Immigration and assimilation

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
Max may not be ready for the this one - strong themes and injustices surrounding a tragedy in a church in the Deep South during the 60's (it involves the burning of a church with four young girls inside).

Sarah, Plain and Tall
1800's. I love learning about this era and pioneers, hope Max does, too.

Number the Stars
Over 700 near-perfect ratings. I'm equally fascinated with this period of time, too - WWII. We could also delve into Diary of Anne Frank, but we'll save that one for middle school.

Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos
What mouse doesn't spin a good tale? The life of Ben Franklin through the eyes of a good mouse named Amos.

Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere,Esq. as Revealed by his Horse
Same author, Robert Lawson. He has a few other books with the same premise (history told through animal eyewitnesses).

Bound for Oregon
10-year-old girl's account of her family's trek along the Oregon trail in the 1850's
Admiral Byrd's harrowing one-man Antarctic adventure; kind of an outlier, but it looks like a good adventure book based on real events.

Give Me Liberty: The Story of the Declaration of Independence
"Freedman is a master at taking crucial moments in American History and reproducing them with powerful tensions and grace". Quote taken from Honey for A Child's Heart:The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Freedman also wrote books about the Wright Brothers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Crazy Horse.

Bright Freedom's Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Underground railroad and the Civil War

Streams to the River, River to the Sea
We enjoyed O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins a lot, too. The book above is about Sacagawea.

Sing Down the Moon
The Navajo Trail of Tears through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl
I'm going to stop here for now - I haven't done any looking for books that fit the post WWII era yet beyond what is listed in Wanda Miller's books. Oh - can't forget about the Little House on the Prairie series, either. I had hoped to read these to Max over the summer, but summer has a way of taking off on its own tangents and we didn't get that accomplished. He did a bunch of his own reading (see this post).

In closing, Honey for a Child's Heart has been on our bookshelf for several years and I have pulled it out many, many times. It's a wonderful resource when searching for good, wholesome books for your kids. Here's what it looks like and it, too, has a section on historical fiction for 9-12 year olds:

Honey for a Child's Heart
Written by Gladys Hunt - doesn't she have the most perfect last name??

Looking forward to some living history. So much more fun than memorizing events and dates!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Homeschool Planners for Perfectionists

Give me a well-thought-out spreadsheet any day and I’ll give a big ol’ smile right back to you. There’s something about empty white boxes surrounded by thin black lines that make me all happy inside. I like filling in those little white boxes with words and stuff – guess it makes me feel like I have some control over the situation, whatever that situation might be.

I spent a little time today looking for a homeschool planner that fits our needs – and mind you, I’m kind of picky about stuff like this. I did recently purchase the 2011 Busy Body Book to keep track of the goings on for our family, animals, my photography business and our home. Here’s a picture of what it looks like and I wrote a separate post heralding this planner:

It’s great and will work nicely for all of the other subjects outside of homeschooling. Originally I was going to use it for this year’s homeschooling adventure, too, but thought about it and decided that I’d like to keep the record-keeping for schooling separate so that I can easily reference it in the future if need be and keep all of his school stuff together. I was on the hunt for a good planner that I can tailor specifically to homeschooling. I wanted it to be creative, pretty, well-designed, intuitive, large but not bulky, sturdy, ring-bound and cheap. Hah! Good luck finding this, huh? Maybe I should just design my own.

Many families use online systems like Google Docs for homeschool tracking. Or they download fancy software like Homeschool Tracker, of which there is a free basic version and then an upgraded version you can dish out for. I looked at their site and kind of blanched at the plain-Janeness of it. Very utilitarian but I’m sure it works well for many families. There are many similar versions out there – just Google ‘homeschool planning software’ and you’ll find them. I was hoping to find something with more panache and pizzazz – especially if I’ll be looking at it every day for the next 9 months or so. Again, maybe I should design my own. But that would kill the printer cartridges, wouldn’t it?

Also, I wanted something I could get my hands around, something tactile. I didn’t like the idea of typing everything into the computer and then having to store it, knowing that someday storage technology will change. A nice written record sounds lovely and kind of homey, if you ask me.

A quick trip out tonight to get soymilk and cat food might have been fruitful with respect to this planner dilemma. I picked up a weekly/monthly planner from Blue Sky Images. Here it is:

It’s their 8.5 x 11 inch Blue Indie Stripe Planner with week-at-a-glance and monthly bird’s-eye-view options. It has a nice thick plastic cover, so it should hold up fine for all the times it gets stuffed into bags, dropped, run over, chewed on, hidden by Max…….. And it has awesomely large spaces to write in for the daily stuff. I can track to my heart’s content and then some. This is great!

Now I can settle comfortably into a chair and get down to business in planning the remaining details of the upcoming school year. The summer has been a tremendous adventure with lots of home projects like planting a garden, building a chicken coop, raising eleven chicks from the day-old stage (they are six weeks old today!), constructing a securely fenced chicken yard to keep the coyotes out, painting projects, etc. I have been one busy little camper around here, but am suddenly aware that all of the other kids in the neighborhood are IN SCHOOL this week!!!! Eeek! No worries – we weren’t planning to start until September 1st and I did much of this year’s planning at the end of the school year in June. We’re all set. I just need to sit down with a good pen and transfer those thoughts into the new planner.

In parting I’ll leave you with a picture of Max in the chicken coop – he is accompanied by Charlotte and Georgia. Charlotte (on the right) is a light brown Leghorn (pronounced ‘Leggern’); she is a nervous wreck and is very hard to catch. Georgia, on the other hand, is the sweetest girl. She is an Australorp and is growing into quite a handsome bird. It’s freaky how much they have changed in just six weeks!

Max, Georgia and Charlotte in the new coop

Just for fun, here’s what Georgia, the Australorp, looked like at 2 days of age:

Backyard chickens are the coolest! How I went from planners to chickens……not sure, but both of these things have been on my mind

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Bennies for Homeschoolers

There is a palpable buzz all around us right now; I feel like we are tucked safely and cozily into a nice comfy cocoon, getting to avoid most of the noise. Kids up and down the street are being shuttled by their parents to stores for the annual back-to-school shopping extravaganza. School supplies, school clothes, school lunch boxes, sleek folders, perforated notebooks, bottles of Elmers, packs of unsharpened pencils, boxes of Kleenex are all being piled high into shopping carts. Parents are wandering the isles carrying the lists from their school districts that tell them what they need to buy, right down to the type of handi-wipes or hand sanitizer (which isn't all that helpful, by the way - soap and water are more than adequate for killing germs) that the teachers appreciate. Of course it's always nice to find a little something extra special for the teacher like dry erase markers that fluoresce (do they make those?) or some other little nifty doo-dad that will hopefully put a smile on an educator's face. A dark chocolate bar would be a nice way to start the year, don't you think? The all-important backpacks! New water bottles! Not to mention all the new clothes, socks, shoes and underwear that will get the kids off on a fresh start into their new year. I swear, two years ago, we went to school the first day with two grocery sacks loaded to the brim with supplies and I remember feeling a bit bitter about the whole ordeal, too.

Max and I stand on the fringes of all of this current hullabaloo and kind of happily ignore what is going on in that designated section of the store. It all doesn't apply and I'm blissful about not having to tote that list around and cross off items as they are found and plunked into the cart. I also don't have to feel angry that my school district cannot 'afford' basic supplies for the classroom, yet they can find the money to put up a fancy $25,000 electronic sign at our neighborhood elementary school and run it around the clock. Ack - don't mean to be negative, but that's just stupid and wasteful. The neighbors have filed a petition to make the school shut off the sign after 7 p.m. because it glares into people's windows. And does it really need to run all summer long? I think the last thing kids want to see right after they get out of school for summer vacation is a flashing sign that says, "First Day of School August 16th!" What a fun-breaker.

I'm not feeling rushed. I'm not feeling a strain on the checkbook. Max is not trying to adjust his sleep schedule to better fit the 7 a.m. craziness that would ensue if we had to get out of the house at 7:30 to make it to the school building on time (he attended a charter school about five miles away from our home prior to our homeschool adventure - we often took the scooter to school to try to conserve gas because it bugged me to take the car for such a short distance). Ooo, that morning rig-a-ma-roll was not fun! I am not having to psyche myself up again for PTA chaos, volunteer time in the classroom, those daily drives back and forth (sometimes several times in one day if I had meetings, which were most decidedly unproductive anyway and could have been conducted online or via well-written emails). I don't have to pack lunches and then forget them on the counter :). That's the best! I tell you, all of that stress surrounding the entire school package added up and made a not-so-happy-mama which in turn affected our household and made everyone around here a little bit on edge.

I am, technically and according to categorical tables, a stay-at-home mom, but I got very involved as a PTA president and then eventually transitioned onto the governing board of the charter school - many hours were consumed with details all in an effort to help the school and to supposedly make a difference for Max. The irony was that as much as I wanted to help Max and his school, he was the one who had to deal with my absences and sometimes grumpy/exhausted demeanor - all because I thought I was putting my energy into the right stuff. Not so. Hindsight is a gift that we need to unwrap occasionally and examine! Looking back at all of that craziness, it's clear that my energy was inappropriately metered out and my family suffered because of it. I paid a price, too.

Life is VASTLY different and better now that we homeschool!!! Now the energy I invest is having a positive and direct impact on Max - it's not deflected because of all of that administrative man-made gobbeldy gook that I used to float around in. I feel like the energy I now expend is more in tune with my values and desires for our child. It's closer to the vest, so-to-speak. This could not have worked out any better.

Moms up and down the street are rejoicing the onset of school - I can hear it in their voices and see it on their drawn faces. They are tired. One mom in particular I don't think really enjoys her kids, at least that's the impression I get. She is always needing them to play with other kids, schedule activities out of the house, get them into summer programs - when I talk to her, she does not seem to be happy. In fact, she's kind of whiney. I'm not her, her kids are not mine, her attitude is not mine, but I can't help but think about the situation she has created for herself and the choices she is making. Maybe, just maybe, the outcome could be different if she were to restructure the way they do things. I don't know - everyone's different. But unhappy people, as much as I don't like to be around them too much, do make me think. I'm not saying that I'm happy-go-lucky and giddy about life constantly, but I do feel a certain sense of peace and well-being inside that has had to be cultivated, kind of like my garden. You plant things and then help them to grow - and that includes thoughts and actions. All of this internal stuff needs to be nurtured for a bountiful outcome. It's a result of making conscious choices over time instead of blindly following the masses; getting down to the nitty-gritty and deciding how we wish to conduct our days.

I realize that homeschooling is not THE answer to happiness. Of course it isn't. I'd be silly to presume that and tell everyone that it is. Homeschooling is not a good fit for some families for a variety of reasons; sometimes it's just completely unrealistic for finances or for family dynamics, although I do tend to think that it has the potential to help improve relationships in the family. It's one way of educating a child and it's a choice. For us, it's a great fit and it has led to some marked changes in our lifestyle.

Yes, we are still paying taxes to benefit the public school system, but that's about all I'm doing these days to 'help' the school. I am so thankful that we homeschool. We are excited about school starting this year, too, but for different reasons. I am happy - to not be at Target shopping for school supplies for starters. My happy list is extensive at this point; homeschooling has become a foundational piece in the contentment puzzle. There are innumerable benefits to homeschooling, some of which are quite obvious, more of which are subtle and harmonious. Here's an older post about what we've seen in our family as a result of homeschooling. It's titled Why I Homeschool

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