Tuesday, June 29, 2010

what a hoot!

Julia Ellen can't say anything yet but Maaa and Daaa, but she can zerbert her mother and sister just by asking. She seems to be a natural comedian, making hysterically funny faces and pulling up her shirt and poking herself in the tummy. We were all laughing so hard at dinner that there were tears. What a blessing our little 6th babydoodle is to our family.

Monday, June 28, 2010

what is up there at the top of that tree?

It's a dog party! A big dog party!

Actually, it was a BBQ we attended yesterday afternoon, between the 4 families present there were 20 children, only because one of the ladies had her two oldest daughters spending the week with their grandparents. For 5 hours all the children, the oldest being 12, played games in the yard, peeked at the chickens and goats, and didn't have a single argument. The peace was only disturbed by one 2 year old biter (not mine) and Julia Ellen getting a little tired and cranky by the end. It was a lovely day to chat with old friends and see all the children a year older. My artichoke dip was praised and the huge bowl of fruit salad disappeared after everyone had second helpings. What a wonderful start to the summer!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

sign us up!

I have found that living in a small town, we attend more cultural events than we did living right outside of Washington, DC. For one thing, since there just aren't a great many people in Maine, I know that the activity won't be crowded. Seeing my clan come through the door, despite any wiggling and giggling, will bolster the host's tally of participants, which always seems to be appreciated. This past week we decided on the spur of the moment to scoop up the boys and take them to see the town's fire station as part of our tiny library's summer reading program. Charlie brought along his new fire engine his auntie sent for his birthday, though we had to shut off the siren as it competed for the kid's attention with the fire chief's description of the equipment.

Afterwards I traded off with Tim for the big kids and headed up to Bangor for a library program featuring a piano trio. The graduate student musicians studying in Blue Hill played parts of a piece by Hayden despite much wiggling and giggling (not from my children). Afterwards some of the children showed off their piano playing. I talked with another mother after listening to her children play a lovely duet and discovered that she belongs to a local homeschool group.

There might not be opportunities to see world-renowned musicals (thought there are many local theater productions), or huge orchestras, but if I look closely I can find all sorts of activities and events that would expand any child's cultural education, even in the smallest of towns.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

camp checklist

Many months ago we filled out forms, made an appointment for a physical, and sent in the check for Camp Roosevelt. This year we knew the drill for signing him up for Merit badges, since the cool ones fill up very quickly and last summer he was stuck with astronomy, fishing, and leatherwork badges. This week we found out that during his two weeks of camp he will work on small boat sailing, swimming, environmental science, archery, and a much coveted spot in the rifle session. Of course I signed everyone up for swimming lessons at the local pool and Mary starts riding lessons tomorrow. Out of the three towns that the kids have taken sailing lessons from, apparently only one is offering lessons this year and of course it is the most expensive and an hour away.

But despite all the opportunities, Mary still whined, "How come Will gets to go to camp and I never do...." I couldn't tell her the truth, "Well dear, because Boy Scout camp is reasonably priced and wholesome, while the options for you are Girl Scout camp where it is likely that the counselors are lesbians, or the typical Maine camp for rich kids from Boston and New York."

I am serious about needing to be rich to afford Camp Hiawatha, most of these places are for 45-50 days and cost between $6000-$10,000. The typical description in the Maine Summer Camps guide include horseback riding, windsurfing, sailing, rock climbing, jewelery making, videography, kayaking, gymnastics, dramatics, etc, etc, etc. They include transportation from the major airports and boast that their camp is the opportunity of a lifetime for each child to reach their individual potential and make lifelong friends. It took all my willpower while reading the guide to not take out a loan to be able to send Mary to one of these camps, but good sense prevailed. I did find an entry for a camp recommended by a dad after a race last year in a neighboring town. After calling the director, I found that because of the economy, there were still spaces available and they offer horseback riding. Best of all, it is even cheaper than Boy Scout camp.

So, sight unseen, but on good recommendation (several others have given the place a thumbs up), Mary will spend a week away from home, eating camp food and doing crafts. She won't be hanging out with any rich kids from Manhattan in her bunk, but making friends with real Maine kids and having a grand time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

rise and shine

The long day's drive up to Maine last week really put Julia Ellen's internal clock out of kilter. She awoke on Tuesday morning, the day Tim and I needed to get some rest, at 4:30am. The next day I swung by Target and bought a set of blackout curtains, but realized after Tim put them up that I needed another pair to completely cover the windows. Despite going to bed a little later than normal and the pitch black conditions, she was still waking up with the birds between 5-6am. Finally, after 7 days of not being able to sleep in, this morning she slept until the civilized hour of 7:15am. Of course, now my internal clock is reprogrammed to wake at 6am so I took the opportunity to go running for the first time in almost a year.

Monday, June 21, 2010

suddenly I'm the bad mommy again

Well, the children received their moving vacation and their "getting up to Maine" vacation, but today they have to get back to their books and piano practicing. In our 7 years of homeschooling, we have never had to do more than a book report or two by mid-June. Between the co-op fiasco and trying to stretch myself into a pretzel teaching 4 children, everyone still has some work to complete. Charlie is still working on his phonics, I found a 'Little Critters' Spectrum workbook that he can complete 3 pages a day in easily. Maggie only has 1 spelling quiz and a test to finish. Mary has to write 1 book report, finish about a week's worth of English, keep plugging away at Saxon 5/4, and do about 3 weeks worth of vocabulary. Will has the most work, almost a quarter's worth of English and vocabulary, 2 book reports, 2 quarter's worth of art, and 6 weeks of religion. We will fit it all in with our summer activities, camp, and trips to the pond, but this will be a lesson to remember: never fall behind so we won't have to repeat a summer of having to be the mean mommy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

our little naturalists

Last summer we waited until frost to begin to carve a path out of the woods so we could more fully explore our woodlot. However, I've been very impatient to work on the project and have had to bribe children to come with me into the woods to hack and tie yellow flagging tape around trees. Charlie and Maggie have both refused to go with me again because of the ever-circling deerflies. They have never experienced blackfly season, so I'm a little nervous about how that will pan out, perhaps they will lock themselves in the house and refuse to go out the entire spring and summer. I guess it is a good thing they really like to play in the snow then.

We have seen our share of wildlife (other than bugs) this week. On my first run in almost a year, this morning I looked up and saw a hawk sitting on the electrical line right over my head. A large family of wild turkeys regularly stroll through the fields looking for bugs and berries to eat. Charlie even saw his first hummingbird and rescued it from certain death on Friday evening. He went in the new house to look for sawdust for his various dump trucks and tractors and came running out to the swingset, "I think there is a hummingbird in the house, it has a long beak and is really little!" Sure enough, there was a frantic bird beating himself against one of the windows in a desperate attempt to get through the glass. I quickly opened the window and gently shooed him outside. Since the builder won't return until Monday, the tiny creature would not have survived 2 days of brutal 90 degree heat without food or water. While we haven't seen any moose or bears in the woods (and likely never will), the children have spent more time outside among the wild creatures this week than they ever did in suburbia.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

safe and sound

So far, out of the 10 or so drives we have made up to Maine for the summer, Monday’s journey was by far the best. We didn’t get into any traffic jams, it didn’t rain until we stopped for dinner just over the Maine state line, and I didn’t wreck the car. The children were all very good, sleeping off and on during the trip, which is understandable considering we pulled away from the Virginia house at 5am. We finally pulled into our driveway at about 9pm, having made such good time that en route we decided to cancel our hotel reservations in Massachusetts. Of course, once we arrived, the boys had to haul enough stuff inside to make it through the night and I had to make the beds before we could hit the hay.

Since then we have very full days bringing everything on the farm up to functional use, Tim mowed the edges of the fields all day on Tuesday so we can take walks and I started hoeing the garden so I could get my veggies planted. After a couple hours of mowing, Will started dismantling his old tree house and began building another in a huge oak tree near the garden.

Today I hoed some more and several children helped plant tomatoes and squash and many different seeds. Charlie and I worked on the woodland trail, but the mosquitoes and deer flies were too much for us to take, even with plenty of bug spray applied beforehand.

After only two days my back hurts, my hair is yanked back into an unfashionable ponytail, and my feet look like I’ve been down in a coal mine despite all my scrubbing. But I’m as happy as a clam being among the fields and flowers, the wild turkeys (2 enormous toms serenaded me this morning at 5:30), and the woods. I really can’t believe how blessed I am to be able to spend our summers in such a quiet and lovely place. The sign on interstate 95 is so true: “Maine, the Way Life Should Be.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

day 3 and we had pictures on the walls

268 boxes of stuff. Approximately 75 pieces of furniture. Here I sit on Sunday morning, 4 days after we drove up to the door at 2am, and only see 4 unpacked boxes. How on earth did this happen? Do I have any advice for other folks moving and just overwhelmed with the enormity of the task?

First, get up early. It was far easier to unpack from 4:30am until the children woke, for after I heard that first wail from Julia Ellen, the amount of paper and boxes I was able to toss into the garage dropped dramatically.

Second, enlist help. Will broke down boxes and stuffed paper into the big ones, sealing them with tape, for hour after hour on Thursday without complaint and handsomely earning an unexpected $20 from his daddy. The girls helped watch the baby, swapping out turns when they got tired of pulling her out of the doorway to the backyard.

Third, distract. When picking up groceries at Kroger on Wednesday morning at 6:30am, I spied a hard plastic pool and impulsively bought it. That pool has saved me countless hours I could have spent breaking up arguments and shooing cranky children out of the way. For the past several days they have happily splashed with the baby, grown a plastic snake their grandfather brought over, sprayed each other with the hose, and safely stayed out of my hair.

Fourth, pawn them off on a unsuspecting neighbor. Maggie has a new 5 year old friend next door with a large swing set. The new rule is that they are not to go next door without Hannah being home and playing outside. I have a feeling that, after this week, her mother is very grateful that she only has one child.

Fifth, a reward. I told myself we couldn't leave for Maine until everything was unpacked and with everyone chipping in, we are ready to pack our suitcases this afternoon and hit the road on Monday for our tiny apartment on the farm which only took 3 hours to make it fully functional when we moved in the first time. But we have the whole outdoors to enjoy, the house we are building to admire, and not a single box to unpack.

*note: I didn't unpack the toys, video tapes, puzzles, or games for obvious reasons, mostly that I would be spending my days putting away rather than unpacking.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

organized to the hilt

Moving day has finally arrived, the packers will knock on the door in the morning and our family will be in camping mode for at least a week. Almost all our belongings that we need or don't want strangers to have access to is all down in the movie room. All the errands such as collecting doll clothes lent to Maggie's friend 3 months ago, closing our library account, and taking apart the quilting frame are completed.

All the schoolbooks we need in Maine to finish out this school year or begin the next in the fall are packed and labeled so they can just be put in the back of the pickup truck. The posters and maps are off the walls and it amazes me just how many school supplies we have: books, workbooks, charts, stacks of music, flashcards, manipulatives, and educational games. There are umpteen jigsaw puzzles and model rockets, erector sets and dry erase boards, computer games and 30 boxes of children's books that have been carefully boxed up so they don't all get dumped together, making a huge chore for me at the other end of this move.

I feel like a general on the eve of battle, all the preparations have been made and the only job I will have on the morrow is to shout, "Charge!" Likely I won't have time to write anything for about a week, but please say a quick Hail Mary for our family that nothing gets broken, no child gets lost, and I don't go stark raving mad before we pull into our driveway in Maine.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

piano recital success

Yesterday we bypassed the traffic on the Beltway (thank you Tim for insisting we go the back way, otherwise we would have missed the entire performance) and attended the 3 older children's final piano recital in Maryland. Tim had to hold Julia Ellen in the back and scoot out the door constantly to keep her from babbling, but the little boys were very well behaved (they certainly have a lot of practice every Sunday during Mass).

Maggie was the first to play and I could see her talking with her teacher, "No, I don't need my music, I've got it down pat!" She exhibits no fear or nervousness, which is a stark contrast to Mary, who won't say boo to a goose without me holding her hand. Mary was in a trio next, the girls claim they didn't coordinate their outfits, but they were all wearing pink floral dresses, which made for a lovely scene. She was calm and poised when it was her turn to play alone, her long fingers just danced over the keys, but she was obviously glad to be finished. Will played Minuet in G very well, but if I'm threatening him that if I hear Jelly Bean Jump one more time I'm going to jump right out the window. I recall feeling the same way last year about another piece, but I made the mistake of mentioning it to Will and so now he still plays Ghost Ship every day to torture me (not exactly the same experience as being waterboarded, but...).

Afterwards we rewarded the children with dinner out and ice cream cones afterwards. We aren't quite finished with music here, the theory test is today and the children have one more lesson before the movers put our piano on the truck. They really have learned a great deal over the past 2 years and their recital last night proves it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

rank advancement

Last night was Will's last Boy Scout meeting in Maryland. We were thwarted in our effort last week to get his last requirement for 1st class, demonstrating water rescue techniques, but by the Scoutmaster's heroic effort he was able to complete it at the local pool Thursday afternoon. He was whisked through his Scoutmaster review and Board of Review and presented with his new patch during the closing ceremony. Many of the Scout leaders expressed their sorrow at Will's leaving the troop and said he was a model Scout. (Yeah, if they only saw him earlier at home when I had to ask him 8 times to mow the lawn and practice the piano)

Will proudly left his completed checklist in front of the coffeepot last night so his father could see it first thing in the morning. Here he models his uniform complete with 1st class patch, 'cause his handy mommy sewed it on first thing this morning (mostly so it doesn't get lost in the move).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

miracle product

I have a lot of big furniture that has been handed down to me from various relatives. While it is beautiful and usually very useful (old dressers have much deeper drawers than modern stuff), it is stressful trying to keep the children from damaging it and dark finishes show such scratches very easily. So it was with scepticism that I purchased a bottle of Old English scratch cover for dark woods last week. Since then I have been a mad woman with a rag constantly in my hand, rubbing down my china cupboard, two sideboards, and 4 dressers.

But the most miraculous transformation has been our 100 year old upright piano we bought about 5 years ago. We decided to start piano lessons for Will and found a great deal, it just cost more to transport the piano than the purchase price. (a friend found out after one sharp turn that using a pickup truck to move an upright is NOT a smart move) The piece has missing patches of veneer, scratches all over, chipped keys (I went over them with an emery board to smooth them out), but plays beautifully (the tuner said it would last forever). Yesterday morning I went over the entire case with the special polish and it really does look like a different piano. So...if you have dark furniture and lots of sharp object wielding children, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of Old English polish and expect to be amazed.

(before and after)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The 231st edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling

At the end of May and beginning of June you can't miss being invited to a music or dance recital. The recital is the culmination of a year or decade of work in one of the arts and many homeschoolers are part of the crowd in the audience as well as the talent up on stage. Our children are in the midst of recital mania with the girl's ballet recital last week (actually 3 shows) and piano later this week.

For our 7 year old Maggie this is her first experience with recitals and I can easily compare her to a homeschool mom finishing up her first year teaching the kids at home. She is so excited that she reminds me of someone walking into her first homeschool conference seeing all the vendors hawking shiny new editions of workbooks in every subject, art videos, sheets of music, vintage books, fancy manipulatives, CDs for learning about the great composers, and more lesson plans than one person could use in a lifetime.

At Mary's first piano recital she was completely overwhelmed and wanted to walk out, but her teacher calmly took her by the hand and led her up to the stage. She sat and played her piece beautifully and has been confident at every performance since. During that first year of homeschooling we all felt a little intimidated by the sheer volume of options and the occasional worry that they were missing something. But sometime during the year we realized that something great was happening at home with our children and our confidence was restored.

Shalynne presents Homeschooling Criticism posted at Wonderfully Chaotic.

Amy gets her children ready for the new addition to the family Preparing for the DLM* posted at Hope Is the Word.

Jessica presents Blessings posted at Teachable Moments.

Krystal at Lips That Speak Knowledge shares that the freedom to school anywhere is one of the many benefits of homeschooling.

Fred Lee presents Art Helps To Relieve Anxiety From Asthma posted at Healthcare Hacks.

For the older girls (and boys) recitals are not quite old hat, but they know the drill: get ready, help the little kids, and perform with a 100 watt smile. The homeschooling moms I compare them to are the ones with a few years teaching under their belt. They know they can't do it all, they have found what method and materials work for each of their children. They give advice to the newer moms and shrug off the criticism of anti-homeschoolers such as, "your child will be unsocialized" or "you can't possibly teach your own kid enough to get into college.

Pamela presents Tar Pits posted at Blah, Blah, Blog.

Jenny gives us an invitation to join up with the Learning Never Stops photo challenge each Saturday at Home is Where You Start From.

The Legacy of Home reflects on family worship time.

Musical Mary's Musings shares with us some ideas on writing friendly letters.

Beyond Silver and Gold asks us to join in the discussion about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling.

Lara shares some wonderful marine sights in Trip to the Coast posted at Texas Homesteader.

Dana worries and prays for one of her children in Parenting in the dark posted at Roscommon Acres.

Renae organizes her home with Chore Buster posted at The Curriculum Choice.

Linda presents Homeschooling Myth #3: Mom Needs to Be a Teacher posted at PARENT AT THE HELM.

The high school seniors who perform intricate dances in synchronicity that rivals an Olympic team or play classical musical pieces which sound like they should be played at Kennedy Center are the homeschool equivalent of the most experienced moms. They have graduated children from high school and college and know that homeschooling has served their children very well. They have a wisdom that only comes from many years of sitting at the kitchen table quizzing on the multiplication tables, helping diagram complex sentences, teaching how to write footnotes, making trigonometry easy to understand, and giving hints on how to remember the order of the elements. They could sit on Good Morning America and explain their philosophy of education without breaking a sweat.

Alejandra presents Teenagers Starting to Drive posted at A Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Beverly shares ideas for homeschool graduation at About Homeschooling.

Kris presents WUHS Top Picks: High School posted at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Arby presents a follow-up to last week’s post concerning homeschool criticism. This post invites more readers to respond. Educating Our Children: A Question for All Parents posted at Boarding in Bedlam.

For those with teens, Chrysalis shares her take on a book, Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti.

Barbara makes me laugh with Nobody Told Me Homeschooling Would Cause So Much Clutter.

Henry shares some more reasons to homeschool from Why Homeschool's blog archives.

Alasandra presents Public School is a lazy parent’s idea of education posted at Alasandra's Homeschool Blog.

ChristineMM presents Fall 2010 Homeschool Planning In Progress posted at The Thinking Mother.

And as a special tribute to all our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines on this day after Memorial Day, Jessica presents Empty Spot at Our Table posted at Teachable Moments.

With enough practice and perseverance our little dancers and musicians graduate from simply jumping around on stage in a tutu or playing Hot Cross Buns to performing in Swan Lake or playing Intermezzo, Op. 118 #2. With enough patience we moms can grow in experience and skill as well.

Happy recitals everyone!