Friday, July 29, 2005

My Homeschooling Fantasy

This is, first of all, mine. Not how I think everyone should homeschool, but how I think we will enjoy homeschooling. (DOB thinks it sounds good, too, if I can pull it off.) Secondly, I realize it's a fantasy and thus subject to revision when it rubs up against reality. But this is how various homeschooling ideas are coalescing in my mind.

Our general structure will be a four-year survey of world history. DOB and I like studying and debating history ourselves. It has its own internal order. It's effortless to integrate it with language arts, geography, art and music, and not too hard to integrate it with science. And I found a really cool binder for our timeline at a yard sale last week.

Every four to six weeks we'll start on a new segment of history. Between now and then we'll find a well-written narrative world history to read aloud from and start a new segment, and for every segment I'll pick out a literary or biographical work that we'll enjoy reading out loud from together. Once we've read the history book to introduce the segment, I'll put up a big sheet of paper and we'll start writing down questions we have. They don't have to be about the time period we're studying, they can be about anything. And anybody in the family can come up with them. We might spend a couple of days on this.

Once we have a good sheet full of things we want to find out about, we'll start finding out what resources we have to answer those questions, and make a trip to the library and anywhere else that comes up to research them further. As much as possible, the children will be responsible for finding their own resources for the things they want to know.

Except for our introductory time first thing in the morning, when we recite some memory work together and read aloud, the children are free until lunch time to choose their own work. There will be, of course, a few expectations: they should be working on academic stuff in the morning (afternoons are free); they should keep track of what they do and for how long for records; and of course when they learn something new and exciting, they'll want to record it or share it in some way because that's the natural thing to do. We'll keep lots of different kinds of notebooks for recording the different things we learn.

Meanwhile I'll do my best not to hover or force my ideas on them, but be available to answer questions and talk things through, in between doing my own research or work that helps them see what use these skills have later. With the younger ones, I'll usually also spend a short time each day introducing them to a new are in a specific skill--as much as possible tied into what they are learning right now.

After about a week into a segment, when we've gotten a "feel" for what's out there, the children (with help, if needed and requested) will start selecting a few larger projects that they will want to present at our end-of-segment party. Maybe I will, too. This could be anything--from a poem to recite to a 3D demonstration of building a pyramid, and it could be individual or collective. Whatever captures their interest and gives them a chance to develop their perseverance and presentation skills is fair game. We'll continue working on these until the end of the segment, along with whatever short-term interests come up along the way.

At the end, we'll have a celebration, show off what we've learned, and look forward to starting something new.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

At least we're compatible

DOB got this result, too . . . it still seems a little too New Agey, make-it-up-as-you-goish to me. But then, the statements for agreement or disagreement were unconstitutionally vague, in my opinion.

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View? (updated)
created with

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Keeping up on her investments.

DOB finally got her to sit still with the "1" block long enough to get the picture. Whenever I held the camera she would just drop everything else and go for the camera.

We couldn't get D1 to take a picture with the "1" block on her birthday, so DOB decided to demonstrate. These blocks came with the standard warning, "Choking Hazard, not for children under 3," but if DOB can't get them in his mouth I don't know who could.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Adjusting Expectations

I find a lot of complaints in the how-to-be-a-good-Christian-homemaker writings about how our mothers failed to teach us this stuff, and hence we have great handicaps to overcome. Well, my mother didn't fail to teach me. I knew all the elements of homemaking pretty well by the time I was twelve, and for the most part I liked them, too. Even when I had a full-time job and lived away from home, I got a big charge out of coming home, fixing dinner for my roommates, and tidying up the place.

So naturally when I got married I expected the housekeeping part of it to all go smoothly. Early struggles were for those poor folks who didn't know how to cook or clean or mend clothes.

Then I encountered morning sickness, overdue bills, undersized apartments, and unpacked boxes. And I discovered that I knew about the wrong end of homemaking. I don't wonder about how mothers of nine do it. They have children who can clean the house and cook dinner while they produce number ten and organize the workload. It's how mothers of two and three little ones do it that mystifies me.

I know how to clean a house in no time flat--with one person to take out the garbages, one to sweep the floors, one to hide the junk, and one to clean the bathrooms. Piece of cake. I know how to cook a generous breakfast for ten people in half an hour--if I can impress someone into flipping the pancakes while I whip up the eggs. Attempting either of these tasks singlehandedly, while trying to supervise and train a toddler or two, is an entirely different matter.

Even without the workers factored in, it just takes time--and money--to get a house operating smoothly. I still don't have a complete set of pots and pans, which means I have to do circuitous things like cook the oatmeal in two pots. Many things already go a lot smoother than they did a year ago; but it took time to figure out where things should be and how they should be done.

I used to ask my mother, perhaps not in the best of spirits, how she did all this stuff before she had us to do it for her. Now I know. She didn't. And now I have to realize that I cannot possibly attempt single-handedly what it took four or more half or fully grown children plus two parents to accomplish. (Or at least attempt--as I recall, we were usually running behind despite our best endeavors.)

So it's OK if I don't have a two-acre garden, eight different dishes on the table for supper every night, company over twice a week, and several ministries going through home and church. For the next few years, if everyone is fed and reasonably happy at the end of the day, it's been a good day. If on top of that we've managed to wash enough dishes and laundry to be ready to face the next day, it's been a great day. If somebody has also learned something or accomplished something that won't have to be redone tomorrow, it's been an outstandingly wonderful day.

Someday we will get past this stage and be able to set our sights a little higher. But there's nothing wrong with the day of small things. And people.

Assortment of thoughts related to doctors

* Our family doctor is leaving family practice. This is the doctor we were so excited to find because she worked five minutes away, didn't push for testing and drugs, was OK with a careful approach to vaccinations, did obstetrics too, and even had in-laws with DOB's genetic condition. But her insurance premiums have gotten too high, so she is going to go treat hemmorrhoids. A noble calling I'm sure, but not one we have much use for. I am limited in who I can blame for this situation, having loyalties in both the legal and insurance fields, but I'd put the blame on the lawyers. Doctors and insurance companies at least still face some free market constraints, though not enough, whereas lawsuits do not.

The one potentially hopeful news is that she might be joining her husband in family practice in a couple of years, where starting over will get her back to the beginning on insurance ratings. But he has a different name (which I can't remember) and practices in a town thirty minutes away, so I don't know how I'll find out when and if she does.

* Naptimes and doctor's appointments do not mix well. D1 is very good and very regular about taking her naps. But what the books cannot show you is that while in the book you can turn the page from the 9-month nap schedule to the 12-month schedule to the 18-month schedule, in real life the change is made incrementally. D1 is gradually moving from morning and afternoon nap to early afternoon nap. Which means that sometime in the next couple of months, 1:00 will become a very bad time for doctor's appointments, even though now it is the ideal time. Unfortunately doctors don't like to wait until that morning to find out how the naptime schedule is progressing and when you can most easily come in.

* I accidentally scheduled my next doctor's appointment on the day His Majesty is out visiting. Now I have to reschedule. Bother. Yes, of course I should have consulted my calendar first. The trouble is, I have yet to see an organizational scheme that would work for someone who can't follow a grocery list.

Besides, all these prenatal appointments annoy me. I go in and spend half an hour laughing at the advice in parenting magazines. Doctor comes in. "Are you having problems X, Y, and Z?" "Nope." "Everything looks fine." "Thanks." Baby's heart is still beating (as I was sure it was, being as it's hard to kick without a heartbeat), I am getting bigger (as I had noticed). All is well. I already knew that. And now I have to go do this every two weeks.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Culture and Counterculture

I've just finished a book called Kingdom of Children, by Mitchell L. Stevens. It's the work of a sociologist who spent a decade getting acquainted with the homeschool movement, looking at it not from the perspective of what happens to the children, but what happens to the parents. Why do they do this? How do they form social networks to support what they do? And how do their ideas fit in with society at large?

Interestingly, although most people (inside and outside) think of homeschooling as a radically countercultural thing to do, he concludes that homeschoolers primarily operate from an especially deep commitment to an idea that is omnipresent in our culture--the sanctity of the individual, not just the individual's rights, but his core identity and uniqueness. The centrality of guarding and developing your child's individuality pops up constantly not just in the group he terms the "inclusives," who tend to come out of liberal social causes, alternative schools, and to emphasize unschooling, but for "believers" as well--the conservative Protestants who make up the largest and most visible segment of homeschoolers.

Despite this common commitment, "believers" vs. "inclusives" are usually rigorously divided, and getting more so. He concludes, after watching the rift develop through the nineties, that this is primarily the result of comfort with different organizational structures. Inclusives stay true to the commitment to democracy and consensus they brought from the social movements of the 60's and 70's, which results in a very loosely-structured group; believers prefer a more hierarchical structure with definite leaders and roles, like they find in their churches and evangelical ministries. The latter being more efficient, the believers have been out building multi-million dollar enterprises while the inclusives are still trying to figure out a board meeting date that won't conflict with anyone's holidays.

The believers also have the advantage that mothers staying home is commonly encouraged in conservative Protestant circles, with the bonus that homeschooling gives them something intellectually challenging and significant to do while they're at home. Inclusives tend to have feminist backgrounds, which gives them much less of a natural base for justifying staying home with their kids.

Definitely an interesting read if one is curious about what the homeschooling movement looks like as a whole, from the outside, or just in how people's beliefs influence the structures and lives they create.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

On Becoming a Lady of Leisure

It took DOB quite a while to convince me. It was too expensive, I argued. I shouldn't need it. I should be able to do everything myself now.

But he finally won. The downside of marrying a guy because he's smart enough to beat you at a debate is that he continues to do so.

Maybe it's because I argue against myself. I wouldn't feel like a failed housewife if my husband had the time and strength to help with the housework. Nor would I feel guilty for impressing my children into service. What made me feel guilty that, lacking those, I couldn't keep up with everything? And, like it or not, I was still struggling to catch up on things that had gotten behind during the first trimester and was making no headway whatsoever on preparing for the new baby--much less on tackling the moving-in projects that never got finished before D1 arrived. I had managed to suppress my guilt enough to accept DOB's sister's (free) help through the first trimester, but she had gone to Taiwan.

So we have now hired a young girl to come in twice a week and help me with the housework. It does cost a bit, but I could easily spend as much on disposable diapers and wipes plus a few convenience foods, which most people in my situation would use to lessen their workload. We could easily spend more if we instead hired her to babysit while we went out for an evening, which is commonly suggested as a beneficial if not essential activity for young mothers.

But right now, it means a lot more to both of us for me to be in good spirits and not too tired at the end of the day, with a new area of the house a little more organized than it was before, and the floors and bathrooms finally cleaned.

Never mind about that lady of leisure bit, either. Actually I work twice as hard with someone else around. I like working with people. That's why I've had little trouble keeping up with dishes and laundry since D1 got big enough to "help" with those. Her help with the floors and bathrooms is not such a good idea, however, and her help with organizing projects is definitely counter-productive.

I have to think of three solid hours of tasks to do. With two people handy, those tasks can include ones that may create large messes, because there's an extra person to keep D1 distracted. And I'm not as scared to tackle something big for fear of running out of energy when there's someone else around as backup.

So, there it is. I have help. I refuse to feel guilty about it. In fact, I really, really like it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sizing up women

Those of you who have had occasion to compare women's clothing over multiple decades (which, owing to a very extensive hand-me-down network, includes me) may have noticed that women's size numbers undergo a periodic shrinkage. What was a twelve or fourteen in the sixties is now an eight, rapidly moving to a six.

A svelte young Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris sighs in despair, "I'll never be a size 10 again." Had she known this propensity of fashion designers, she need not have worried so much. Perhaps that's why it's done--to allow us to remain the same size while gradually expanding our figures. (She may have outpaced them by now, though.)

I notice, however, that the descriptors "small," "medium," and "large" still describe roughly the same bodies they always did, no doubt due to the lack of an infinite sequence of words to keep moving down. One can only put so many x's in front of "small" before one runs out of room on the tag.

All this would be of small concern were it not that we're getting uncomfortably close to the bottom of positive numbers. Within the next three decades, this trend is either going to have to stop, or a significant portion of the populace is going to be buying clothes sized with negative numbers.

Meanwhile men can buy clothes with their actual measurements emblazoned on the tag. What a concept.

Monday, July 18, 2005

DOB has at last persuaded Blogger to publish one of his posts, instead of eating it, and has put up some insightful commentary on the Supreme Court. D1 would like to comment on the Supreme Court too, judging from her preferred choice of reading material (she's always pulling A Matter of Interpretation by Scalia off the shelf), but we won't let her touch the keyboard.

When I've a smattering of elemental strategy

Last weekend DOB finally got to watch his first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, and is now officially hooked, too. We can't wait until we can go to a live performance.

He decided to return the favor by introducing me to playing chess. Not that I didn't know how to play chess in the which-piece-can-move-where sense, but since I had not the faintest notion of strategy I just saw it as a game of little plastic blobs wandering around, randomly bumping each other off, and it wasn't much fun. Now I have learned enough that I know his pieces, at least, are not wandering around randomly. Mine still wander a bit, but I'm learning. Unfortunately I've learned enough that he won't help me anymore, but not enough to win.

My other difficulty is that, especially as the board gets thinner, I start personifying my pieces too much. The king, tattered and beleaguered, his army scattered, his defenses gone, yet strives heroically to evade the encroaching enemy. Finding himself cornered, he turns on his attackers and takes one of them down with him. Though he dies in battle gory, he shall live in song and story. Somehow it seems to arouse more emotion than belongs in a game of chess.

Then again, DOB says I play much more cunningly at the end of the game than I do at the beginning. So maybe I should ascribe more personality to all my pieces.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

On First Eating Spaghetti

(A speech by D1, translated from the original Toddler by QOC.)

Hey, it's time to eat! Yay! Oh, hey, green beans! Yum! I like them better this way than all mushed up. Look, I can mush them with my new teeth. Now, where's the real food? Ah, there's my bowl. Oooooh, do I get to eat what you guys are eating? I told you I wasn't a baby anymore. What is this, anyway? Oh, WOW! Incredible! Delicious! Why did you hold out on me so long? Could I have some more green beans, please? These noodle things are kind of tricky. But so good. Where are those green beans? I asked politely, didn't you hear me? Check this out, I can get them on my spoon, even off the tray. Pretty tricky, huh? Time for some more spaghetti. Wow, this is the greatest stuff I've ever tasted. Except raspberries. Don't think you can hide your salad behind the water, I can see it. I would like a raspberry, please.

Num-num-num-num, Num! Num num num num num. Num num? Num num num num. Num Num. NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM!!!!!! Arroooh? Num num num. ENNHHH! Num, num, num. Num num. Ai-duh. Num Num Num. NUM NUM. Arrooh? ENNNHHH!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How NOT to make learning fun

I came across a product the other day that illustrates a point I was trying to make a couple of months ago on the problem I have with claims to "make learning fun."

The purpose of the product was teaching math facts, each of which were illustrated with a cartoon and some brief story and memory aid--like remembering 4x4=16 by thinking of a teenager at last getting his license and being able to drive a 4x4.

Now, I'm not at all in favor of math being boring. Quite the opposite. But this approach reinforces the reason most people find math boring--because it is sucked dry of any real meaning to them. The fact itself is meaningless, so we must make up an irrelevant story to remember it. And then we have to remember the story and the fact, instead of just knowing the fact. The extra effort involved makes my brain hurt.

If you really want to make learning math facts "fun"--or, more importantly, significant and meaningful, you can figure out how many cookies will fit on a sheet if there are four rows of four. You can calculate that if you could run across the yard four times in one minute, you could do it sixteen times in four minutes. You can consider how much you should charge if someone at the yard sale wants to buy four of your old toys for 40 cents apiece. You can illustrate it with math manipulatives and color it in on graph paper and mark it down on your own multiplication chart. Once 4x4=16 means something to you, it's not all that hard to remember. And if you need to be able to come up with it faster, there are lots of games to play to review it that won't require you to remember twice the information. (And that won't cost $70.)

Of all the things I've lost

Yesterday afternoon I wanted to make popsicles for dessert out of some nectarines. This activity required the blender, so I started to assemble it. Everything was right there except the gasket to seal it. I checked the dishwasher and the sink and the drainer. No gasket. The strange thing was, I had this odd feeling as if I had just unloaded it and put it somewhere a little different but not too out of place. I searched the likely drawers and cupboards. Still no luck. At last I gave up on popsicles and revised my dessert plans.

Later in the afternoon--much later, as D1 and I overslept our afternoon nap by quite a bit--I started tackling the rest of supper. DOB was on his way home, and his sister was coming over for a birthday and farewell supper (she leaves for Taiwan tomorrow). I realized that I needed the blender to make the sauce for the enchiladas, that I didn't have the right ingredients to switch to anything else at that late date, and that I still couldn't find the gasket.

I ransacked everywhere likely and unlikely in the kitchen a second time. I even went out to the compost barrel and poked around in it with a stick. (I had lost things there before.) No luck. Finally I went in and called DOB, more out of need to confide in someone than out of hope that he could help. He thought perhaps he could find it when he got home, which turned out to be in the next couple of minutes.

I went out to the garage to greet him, took in his lunch bag, looked across the kitchen, and there was the gasket. On top of the blender.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Mixed results

Friday before last (some seriously delayed blog postings are roaming around my brain) I spent the day in town with DOB, the morning attending a continuing education class for my insurance license, the afternoon shopping.

I had two things I wanted to find at Value Village: (1) Shot glasses for D1; (2) A cheap purse I could stuff my wallet, keys and cell phone in on those rare occasions when they were not in the diaper bag. Sure enough, I found four perfect glasses--straight sides, no liquor ads, heavy bottoms so they would be hard to accidentally knock over. Only $.40 apiece. I also found a decent, generic-looking brown purse. Not being concerned about brand names, especially not on something whose destination was 6 a.m. trips to Walmart, I didn't even look at the insignia on the side.

I paid for my goods and departed. In the parking lot, I looked down at my purse. And then I saw the brand name, engraved on the side ornament. "Carryland." Carryland? Who in all creation could come up with such a stupid brand name for a purse? I am almost embarrassed even to take it to Walmart.

I should have gone back in and returned it on the spot, but being rather indecisive, I did not. It would have been a good thing, too, because I discovered the next day that I had left the shot glasses on the counter. So D1 is still knocking over her one sippy cup that is small enough for her to pick up.

On the plus side, though, I found a Scrabble game for $2 that was only missing two pieces, and we have been playing it addictively ever since. DOB has discovered he was mistaken about me not being competitive. I'm just not competitive at games I don't expect to win.

Some Scrabble variations for the truly obsessed:
1. For a two-player game, use the extra trays and keep 14 tiles at a time. It allows you to make much more interesting words.

2. Compose a poem using only words on the board. (Free verse, or perhaps haiku, is definitely the most feasible genre.) I would inflict mine on you, but I think it got thrown out with the junk mail.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Emerging from the Dark Ages

After a week of intermittent service and a week of non-existent service, we are back online, thanks to many phone calls on DOB's part.

And I'm embarrassed to admit how much I miss it. How did we all live a decade ago?