Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Socialization

Happy Halloween – October 2016

happy-halloween-from-improveit-360Another month gone, y’all. I honestly don’t know how time passes so quickly. At this point, my plan to update each week is just completely out the window; I’m barely able to get in the once-a-moth gig at this point. Once you read through this post, you’ll see why though. The additions to our normal busy schedule have basically made ‘free time’ a thing of pure fantasy.

We’re still taking #alltheclasses – the boys started an aquatic science course with one of the moms in our homeschool group and are 8 classes in at this point. They’re enjoying it. The course is project-based, which I absolutely love, because I feel like they’re getting more out of it than they were with traditional book-work. This is the kind of science-y stuff that I have always wanted to offer my kids, but never got around to doing. They’ve made models, maps, used all kinds of cool tools and worked in larger groups, which has been a really neat dynamic for them. That can be one of the failings of homeschooling – missing out on group learning environments. It’s not an essential element to education, but I’m glad that my kids get to experience it. Since it’s a small group, and the kids that are there actually want to be there, I feel like this is a really good opportunity for them. Their next lesson involves building a wave pool thingy. I don’t know a lot about it, but I can’t wait to see it!

Our homeschool co-op is still going strong. I can honestly say that this has been the best part of our school year. Having something to break up the monotony of the week has been really nice. We’re 10 weeks in, and will be taking a break next week for Thanksgiving, then have the last 2 weeks of the fall semester before breaking for the rest of the year. We’ll pick back up in January, at which time I think we’ll all be ready for it to start up again! Our schedule for co-op runs in 6-week segments; we’re in the second 6-weeks right now. We started home economics (which I think is called family and consumer sciences in schools now) this 6 weeks, and the kids are learning how to crochet, along with literature (still Romeo & Juliet, which they elected to continue), debate and orchestra. We got our music for our homeschool group’s Christmas Pageant coming up in December (a community service event where we visit a local nursing home and sing carols and play for the residents), so we’ve been practicing Christmas carols and learning tab music.
The last month has been full of activities. We went to Johnson Space Center’s Homeschool Day in Houston the first week of October. This was our third trip, I think, and as always, we had a blast! (no pun intended). This was the first year that we’ve gone with friends who were older; the moms and I sent the kids off with a couple of assignments and we got to go on our own tours. We met back up with the kids at lunch, then sent them on the tram tours while we caught a couple of the inside demonstrations and then toured the Space Shuttle. Because they kinda did their own thing, I don’t think I have any pictures of the boys from this year’s trip!

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Each month, our group hosts a teen social for the group’s ‘tweens and teens to get together for some older-age appropriate socialization. In October, we brought games to a local coffee shop and let the kids hang out while the moms had their own table.

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We also have Social Studies club every 6 weeks where we focus on one country at a time. Each student does a project of some sort based on that country. October’s country was Iraq. My kids chose a culture project; LBB did a recreation of a painting by Faeq Hassan, and PeaGreen did a recreation of one of calligraphic artist Hassan Massoudy’s pieces.

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Mid October, I helped host WMC’s Nurture & Nourish Retreat at Crystal Beach. We rented a beach cabin, and spent Friday through Sunday working really hard on the mental aspects of good self-care. We spent some time learning how to stop the negative self-talk spiral, work through anxiety and depressive episodes that sneak up on us, and quite a bit of time learning some watercolor letting techniques and creating some artsy affirmation cards. It was such a great weekend! I came home refreshed and although it took a few days to recoup from my retreat, once I settled in, I feel renewed.

We’re hosting another retreat in April, and I am so excited for it!

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October is always my favorite month of the year – so several reasons: 1) It’s fall (supposedly), which is my favorite season; 2) pumpkin spice; 3) Halloween season; and 4) it’s time for our first week-long break of this school year – yay! This time, our break fell the week of Oct 17-21, which was the same week after my retreat. I needed to take some time off to ease back into real life, and having the week off from school was perfect timing.

We had a couple of things planned for that week that we ended up missing. The kids prepared for several weeks for their Public Speaking (part II of persuasive speeches) class. PeaGreen went to visit his cousins, but LBB and I were going to go without him. I tried, but I just couldn’t make myself take LBB. I needed the break! Taking full advantage of the time off so we could start back strong the next week was a priority for me.

During my off week, I didn’t just laze about – I was productive! I spent a couple of afternoons painting with a friend (who shall now be called ScienceMom since she’s the one who teaches the kids’ science class as well). We found a really cool Harry Potter/Starry Night mash-up picture online and I wanted to attempt a recreating. It didn’t turn out too bad! I also found a YouTube channel called Painting with Jane. I did one of her tutorials a month or so ago, and I loved her ‘Squishy’s Embrace’ picture, so I did that one as well. I actually had to go out and buy new canvases! I’ve had the same 4 sitting around for a while now, but they’re finally painted, so I got new ones.
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We decided back in the summer that our homeschool group should do a haunted house for our Halloween party this year. That was ambitious, and as the month started winding down, I think we all got more and more nervous about how it was going to work out. The last week of the month was full of decorating and setting up – I think we spent more time at ScienceMom’s house than we did our own! This is from the day before the party, after a long day of moving furniture and decorating. We didn’t want to wait until the very last-minute, so the bulk of the work was done the day before.

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Vampire’s Lair

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Zombie Maze with the projection screen in the background

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zombies in the window

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LBB’s very simple – but absolutely terrifying – costume

The end of the month was really exciting. We had the Halloween Party, and started the second 6-weeks of co-op. Due to a strange set of last-minute goings-on, I ended up hosting at my house, which was kinda nice. My house is tiny, so it was somewhat less comfortable for everyone, but we did get to do orchestra outside, which was amazing! All music should be played outside, I think.

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After setting up the party, we went to see the annual screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Jefferson Theater in downtown Beaumont. I love going there – it’s such a cool old 20’s style theater. They’ve been hosting classic movie night over the last year or so, and it’s been great to see fun old movies and neat to hang out in that theater. I had planned on taking my kids to see it, but LBB elected to stay home, so PeaGreen and I went and met some friends to see it.

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

We also moved my grandmother’s piano from her house to ours. She’ll be moving in a few weeks, and the piano was not going to be able to go with her, so it’s now comfortably in place in our living room – and getting regular use as well. The boys took piano lessons from her for a couple of years, but they slacked off as they got older. Loverly HUsband and I both want to learn, and PeaGReen is interested in taking lessons again, so the plan is to start in January. Right now, we’re just focusing on violin and cello. cam05015

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I bought a bike! A pretty, pink cruiser with a nice, wide seat. It’s been fun to ride again!

Another big deal for me was a paid writing project – my first! I worked with a good friend of mine to complete a CPR & First Aid manual/training course for an online school. It was a 20K word-count project with a week-long deadline, and we aced it! Unfortunately, it was the week before NaNoWriMo, which means that my brain hasn’t recovered enough to make NaNo happen yet. At this point, it’s halfway through the month and I am still on the outline. That makes me sad, but I’m not giving up yet. If you’re writing, too, then Happy NaNoWriMo to you!

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That’s pretty much it for October. Because I’m 2 weeks late with this post, I’ve talked about some stuff that’s happening in November already, but for the full story on what’s current, you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks for the full November update post (unless I get around to updating before the month is out… but don’t hold your breath). <wink>

Hope you’re enjoying the cooler weather – I know I am!
Warmly,
~h

 

 


Summer’s Over! August 2016 Update

summer is overWell, kids, Summer is well and truly over. I mean this is a more ‘school year’ context and less of a ‘seasonal’ context. Let’s be honest here; we live in Texas, so summer is never ‘well and truly’ anything other than Really. Effing. Hot. That being said, it’s been raining so much lately that we’ve hardly had the opportunity to spend much time outside. This is a vast improvement over the last couple of years, as we’ve had droughts – so rain is kind of a nice change. But, enough about the weather – that’s not why you’re here!

Today is Friday (well, it was when I started writing this – today is actually Monday), and as such is also the last day of our lighter, more carefree ‘summer schedule’, when work goes from looking like a half-page list to a full-page list. We took quite a decent break earlier in the summer, and for the past seven weeks have been on a lighter, less crowded work schedule. The main areas of study I have insisted upon have been math and literature. The kids have done really well with that, and reading about 3 chapters per day, they’ve been able to move through Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, and finishing The Great Gatsby last week. They’ve also finished their math work daily (for the most part). We’ve kept up with some of the academic parts of our homeschool group’s field trips – others, not so much. We totally flaked on our social studies club this week – Russia was the topic, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Next week is our Public Speaking class; they did informative speeches last month, and have persuasive speeches coming up.

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Tomorrow we start our regular school schedule again, adding all the ‘normal’ core subjects back to the work for the week. We took care of all the ‘back to school’ business last week – new ID cards for this year, and the boys’ official ‘school pictures’. Can you believe how much they’ve changed this year?? It’s really starling to see their pictures compared to last year. *th grade, especially, seems to be the year that they go from looking like little kids to actual teenagers. It’s so weird!

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We also have a new addition to our schedule this year: co-op! That’s right – we’re participating in a co-op class again this year. If you’ve been around for a while, then you may remember the last time our homeschool group had a cooperative class a couple of years ago. It was a really cool experience, but ultimately one that didn’t work for us. My boys were the oldest in the group, and between the focus being on younger kids and the time it was taking us weighed against the benefits, it just didn’t measure up for us. I’m glad we did it though – we learned a lot, and it was a lot of fun. Pulling from that experience though, made planning the current co-op easier. The moms in our group decided to put together two separate co-ops, with a focus for one on elementary students that is more play-based, and one for our high schoolers that is more academically based. We’re in the high school co-op, and the absolute best part, IMO is that they get to take orchestra! We have a very talented music teacher who will be guiding the kids towards musical competency – and the moms, too! The boys are learning violin, and I am learning cello.

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Another group activity that our homeschool group offers is called Art Guild. We’re going through a book called ‘Discovering Art in the Style of the Great Masters’, and though it’s aimed at younger students, it’s been a really fun way to introduce a wide range of art and art styles to all o our students. Oddly enough, it’s been mostly the older kids who are consistently participating. This month, we studied Louise Nevelson and her monochromatic found art sculptures. The kids each made an individual box piece in the style of her sculpture ‘Sky Cathedral’, then we put them together to form a larger sculpture. It would have been really neat if we’d had all black paint, but our options were somewhat limited. Still, the final piece was pretty neat looking, and it really gave the kids the opportunity to create both a small thing that was personal to each of them, and contribute to the making of a much larger thing, which was a lot of fun.

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Our first ‘official’ event for our homeschool group each year is our ‘Not Back to School’ party. This was our 7th, and we had a great turn out! We also hosted a mini-conference for newbie homeschoolers. This is the second mini-conference we’ve hosted, and we had a pretty decent turnout. I think next year I want to coordinate with the local library and plan a bigger event. Around the beginning of the school year there is always an influx of new members to our group, so having an ‘orientation’ day might help quite a bit.

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We also started our Yearbook Club meetings for this school year. This will be our second yearbook for our homeschool group – the first one turned out absolutely amazing! I haven’t gotten mine in the mail yet, but when I do you can be sure I will update here. I did see a friend’s though, and I am just SO pleased with it. If your group, or even if you just want one for yourself, I highly recommend Picaboo’s yearbook services. This isn’t a sponsored post – this is what we’re using this year, and it is so very easy to use and order from – I can’t imagine it being any more simple to create publish and distribute a quality yearbook!

We’re offering a couple of options to our students – a full elective class for those who ant or need it as a credit, and a ‘just for fun’ participation level for those who just want to be involved. This was our first structured class/club meeting.

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In other news, the moms in our homeschool group planned a ‘mom’s night in’ event – a mystery dinner! Our theme was a bachelorette party, and our characters were all in the fashion industry. I was ‘Holly Hott’, a fashion model who works for the bride-to-be (and who also is in love with her fiance). Cue the drama! I wasn’t the murderer though I did win the ‘Diva of Drama’ award. Apparently I know how to lay it on thick. We had SUCH a great time!

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Last but not least, we’re counting down to co-op – only 2 days to go! I am teaching Literature for the first term; Shakespeare/Romeo & Juliet. I finally have my lesson plan finished, and the kids’ folders and handouts ready. I also got in the HUGE order from Amazon with our co-op supplies. Now, I am only waiting for my cello, which should be here tomorrow, and I have a box coming with some art supplies and another box to pick up at the craft store and we’re all set!

Best of luck for your new school year!
Cheers!
~h


Summery Time Fun

 

blue_watercolor_chevron_1_1024x1024This month has been a little slower than usual. We’ve been taking it kinda easy, and letting the kids adjust to the new norm after the loss of Loverly Husband’s grandmother at the end of May. Academically, we spent the beginning of the month on our ‘summertime’ schedule, which is overall a little bit lighter than what they’re assigned during the fall and spring. Towards the end of the month, to present, we’ve been on vacation – our 3-week break before starting our new school year. It’s been nice! Normally, we have a ton of stuff going on during the summer, but the last few weeks have been pretty low-key and I have been enjoying the break immensely.

Our first official summer-time thing was the Teen Social for June. We met at the movie theater and dropped the kids off to see Alice: Through the Looking Glass while the moms had lunch and a chat in peace. It was fun for us – not so much for the kids (though I suspect the enjoyed it more than they let on). In any case, this new ‘spending time with teens’ thing has been really great. We went for a long time without older kids in our homeschool group, and I am so glad we have that social time now! Self-care has been a big part of my routines lately, so I treated myself to the new Through the Looking Glass makeup palette from Urban Decay, and playing around with makeup looks from YouTube.

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We had a yearbook club meeting somewhere in there… I didn’t get pictures, but I do have a couple of screenshots from our soon-to-be-finished yearbook! I’m so excited about having these this year. We’ve looked at it before, but the idea never materialized. There are so many great moms in our group who are motivated to make things happen right now and I am loving it. Without their vision and take charge attitude, a lot of the ideas we’ve had as a  group would still be just ‘plans’. Here’s a screenshot of the students’ page. We also have a family page for each family, and individual pages planned for our two seniors this year.

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Earlier in the month was Beaumont’s PRIDEFestival, and this was our third year to support the LGBTQ community locally. My organization, Whole Mothering Center, sponsored a kids’ area with a big bounce house (in princess pink), and we brought the kids out to help. Unfortunately, the weather was being typically Texas with sunshine for 20 minutes, followed by a half hour of torrential downpour, followed by sun, then rain, then sun… basically all morning long. The kids were *soaked* through and miserable for a little while there. The boys had plans with some friends around noon, but we ended up having to go all the way back home so they could shower and change before I took them to meet their friends. It wasn’t the best time, but it was definitely an experience to remember!

 

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Most of the next week was rained out – we had grand plans for a canoe trip, but with all the rain,the water was too high to be safe, so we ended up spending most of the week at home, trying to stay out of the rain.

Our Father’s Day was a lazy one. The kids and I bought all of Loverly Husband’s favorite snacks, and cards from each of us to show him how much we appreciate him. Our homeschool group is planning to host a co-op in the fall; one for high schoolers, and one for elementary aged kids, and the elementary co-op planning committee met earlier in the week. They had a Father’s Day craft for the little kids that was so cute – a tree with hand prints for the leaves. I brought it home for the boys – we missed out on a lot of those types of crafts, so I thought it would be funny to do and give to their dad… and it was! The boys’ hand prints are bigger than mine – they had trouble staying on the page!

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Our homeschool group has a park day planned for June 20th, but we moved it indoors since the weather is so awful – srsly, if you’ve never been to Texas, summertime is like trying to drink the air; it’s THAT humid. That’s why our school motto is ‘It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity’. Never has a phrase been uttered more often than when making and subsequently cancelling plans that involve any length of time spent outdoors.

We had a new opportunity come up this month for a few of the moms in our homeschool group. Our local Regional Educational Service Center offered a ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ course on the 21st. Their goal is to help parents and teachers and others who work with teens recognize some of the warning signs of teens in mental health crisis and train you to offer support until professionals can be contacted. It was an interesting course, and I am so glad we went. We each were given a certification and a book with more information on specific mental health issues. If you have the chance, look for a class near you through your local REC. Here’s a map if you’re in Texas. If you’re not in TX, the Great and powerful Google can probably help.

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On the 23rd was our annual trip to Moody Gardens. I didn’t get any pictures because I was very busy chillaxin’ in the sand while the kids were off doing whatever kids do. It was fantastic and relaxing, and I LOVE having older kids for stuff like this.CAM04186

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Though PeaGreen’s actual birthday wasn’t until the beginning of July, we celebrated a bit early with fried and a movie and sleepover. He’s 13 now – no more babies *at all* around here! I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, Loverly Husband and I make pretty cute kids, and I’d love to see what more of them would look like. But on the other hand, they’re turning into such amazing young men, and I can’t imagine starting over at this point.

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The end of June saw us doing a ‘career path’ field trip with the SETX Regional Planning Commission. The SETXRPC is a collection of agencies that do, literally, all kinds of things for the 3 local counties in this area, from social work to transportation to emergency services and more. It was really cool to hear the 3 presenters they chose talk about their jobs and how they got there; they all emphasized the importance of building your reputation as a young person, and networking through various educational and employment opportunities, which is something I am sure all of our parents do, but somehow that kind of advice carries more weight when it comes from strangers.
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We kicked off July with a full-family ‘stay-cation’, and our annual Independence Day Bash. Though Loverly Husband is back at work,  the boys and I still have another week of vacation left and I mean to make the most of it. I’ve been crafting; making DIY refillable makeup palettes (because spending $20 a pop on a z-palette is insanity) and being lured by the de-potting movement in the makeup world.

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I’ll have a high-school-homeschool planning post up soon, so be sure to subscribe and check back!
Hope your summer is rolling peacefully along!

Warmly,
~h


It’s May!

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Well, it’s definitely summer now, and never you mind that the official start of summer is still another month away; this is Texas and Texas weather does not play by the standard rules. We had maybe two days of spring weather this year, and I think I was working on both of them, which is sad. But the good news is that and early summer means beach weather and I can’t wait to dig my toes into the sand! Our first  beach trip this year is coming up in a few weeks, and I am planning on digging out the beach bag this week in anticipation.

We started off this month with a vacation. I know – not super productive, but between work (which has gotten crazy) and just general stress and the blahs that were hard to shake, this mama needed a break, so I sent the kids to my brother’s for a week. Well, most of a week. My brother and sister-in-law live in Jasper, which is about an hour from us, so the boys for to go be country kids for a while. They have chickens, a pond, lots of room to roam, and best of all – no internet access. After a couple of days, I went up as well, which gave me a couple of days to unwind (for the most part).

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We came back home and, naturally, jumped right back into the swing of things. Our homeschool group hosts a Teen Social each month, and this month’s event was a field day with games and contests followed by ice cream and swimming. Each parent submitted a mental challenge and a physical challenge, and the kids split into two teams to compete for bragging rights. There were a lot of games – more than we had time for – including a relay race, a LARP sword fight, a yoga pose challenge and an improv exercise. They had a great time!

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We also finally got to go play D&D again – it’s been a while! The kids decided that we needed a picture that better illustrates the intensity and excitement of our campaign, so we staged this candid photo for you.

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We join KidsBowlFree every year – it’s an awesome deal if you like bowling; kids get a free game every day during the summer, and you can add the family pass on for a single low price. I don’t have an endorsement deal with them or anything; we’ve just signed up for the last few years and it’s been a great way to have a thing to do in the heat of the summer that’s indoors and inexpensive, and family friendly. We did our first bowling a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t snag any pictures.

We also had the last book club meeting and I am so annoyed that I also failed to grab a picture from that! It was a great group of kids this year, and I am so glad the boys actually got to participate this year. We always have had grand plans ion the past, but the date ended up in conflict with something else in our schedule. This year, it worked out – I think we only missed one meeting.

Park Day this month got rained out – at least we thought it did, so we rescheduled to one of our mom’s homes. I didn’t know it, but the families in our group got together and created  ‘Heather Appreciation Day’. I was so surprised! They wrote me the loveliest cards and just said the nicest things. I don’t typically think of myself as craving approval, but it was really nice to have it from so many moms that I have gotten to know and admire. It’s been so great to be part of their lives, and to watch them grow to support and inspire both me and the other moms in our homeschool group. We have such a great group, and I am so glad that they’re there to cultivate the vibe we have that makes our group the best!

There was also cake… amazing, delicious cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes, which is a fairly new bakery in our area. Y’all… it was ah-maz-ing. Seriously. My favorite cake now is the chocolate chocolate chip. It was SO GOOD!

 

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We also spent that day prepping for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16 (link below). We made holi powder with cornstarch and food dyes and water – so much mess fun! When you mix cornstarch and water, you get a non-Newtonian fluid, which is SUPER fun to play with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the best holi powder, so after some trial and error, we found that using only tiny bits of water and using gloved hands to mix the color in was the best way to get a good, bright mix.

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This week, we took the kids back out to Clifton Steamboat Museum, which isn’t really a steamboat museum at all – it’s more an eclectic history museum. It started out as a private collection that belonged to the owner’s grandfather. The theme is ‘Heroes Past, Present and Future’ and it’s such a neat place! A couple of years ago, on our last visit, the kids took a photo with this same statue, so they did a re-creation this time. It’s tradition now, so we’ll have to do it again next time!

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Friday, we finally got all the holi powder off the kitchen table! We picked up my niece and joined quite a few of our friends at a local park for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16.

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Afterwards, we met some friends for dinner, and went to see a showing of The Goonies in one of Beaumont’s historic downtown theaters.

We’re coming up on the end of May, and since we school year-round, it won’t be a long break, but we do have a week coming up soon without class planned, so (even though we just had a week off) I’m ready for it. I will have a high school lesson planning post coming up in a few weeks – high school for LBB is only 3 months away! I can NOT believe that we’re there already. I did some preliminary planning already, but there are still some decisions to be made that I am stressing over. Too much; not enough; too rigorous; not rigorous enough… it’s a hard thing to decide on. Plus, our homeschool group is planning a co-op for high schoolers in the fall, so that’ll be on our plate as well.

Hope your last few weeks of school are passing quickly!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Stepping Back into the Flow

flowI’ve heard stories about people having wisdom teeth extracted, and eating steak a couple of days later. Myth? I think so… I had no idea that my recovery was going to be such an ordeal. First of all, I got sick from the medications that I got for pain relief, so for the first 2 days, I was throwing up. Not. Fun. I figured it was the meds, so I stopped taking all of them, which meant I was just in pain… so I started taking only one at a time so I could figure out which on was the troublemaker – and I did! Tramadol… nasty business, that. So I am overjoyed to report that despite all initial indicatives to the contrary, I am now fully on the road to recovery with Rx-strength ibuprofen and Tylenol-3 at my side, fighting the good fight on my behalf. Thank goodness!

Recovery means back to normal though, or so I thought… only to figure out that I wasn’t quite up to the task of getting back to normal so quickly. I am the world’s worst patient, so of course I tried to rush through recovery with a couple of over-active days. I paid for them both with the next day barely able to get out of bed. Hoping I’ve learned my lesson, I am gingerly stepping back into a semi-normal flow of activity.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing the bare minimum. We took the weeks of March 21 and 28th off completely. I didn’t assign the kids anything new, so there wasn’t really anything to catch up on when we started back with assigned work on April 4th. But even though we didn’t have assigned work while we were off, there was still stuff to do. The main thing was our group’s  science fair. Yes, you read that right – we did science fair projects only days before the presentation. I suck as a mom right now – shut up.

Luckily, there are a zillion websites out there for crappy moms like me who wait until the very last second to pull something together. Here’s a list (not that you would ever need it, being the super-star stellar mom that you are):

PeaGreen chose a combination of two projects having to do with vision, Now you See it, Now You Don’t, and Does Eye Color affect Peripheral Vision. LBB chose Measuring the Speed of ‘Light’ with a Microwave Oven – mostly, I think because he got to play around with eggs.

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picabooIn other news, we met with our homeschool group  a couple of weeks ago to formally put together our first yearbook committee. That was a lot of fun, and really exciting. I have yearbooks from middle school, and that’s something I thought my kids were just going to miss out on, so I am really excited for them to both have  a yearbook at all, and to get to be part of the creative process. We looked at a couple of options, and decided to go with Picaboo, which is an online yearbook-making site. One of the things that swayed us was that for each book order, you also get a digital yearbook to share, and they archive books, so you can order another one at any time.

The kids also got to go swimming for the first time this year at our group’s monthly Teen Social. It was tool cold for me, but they look like they had a great time. There were more kids there, but the girls were already inside one we thought about snagging a picture.

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CNW_Participant_2016April is the beginning of Camp NaNoWriMo, and our local group hosts a writing date every Monday evening at a local coffee shop. The first Monday was April 4th, which also happens to be my birthday. To celebrate ‘camp’ we had a pajama party and made crafts. Coffee, conversation and no requirement to wear real pants… I have found my people, LOL! As I write, I am a bit behind on my word-count, but I plan to catch up this weekend.

 
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Last week was a little more ‘back to normal’.  I gave the kids a regular schedule, and they pretty much got their work done, which was nice. Our field trip was in Lufkin to visit the Ellen Trout Zoo, and we got in some car-schooling on the way there. It was a nice drive; I haven’t been up North in a while and the drive through Texas Hill Country is always so pretty. There was a lot of construction on single-lane highways with long delays where we were sitting still, so we had lots of opportunities for pictures on the way.

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Something I was really looking forward to is a re-take of a picture I took of the boys in 2004. PeaGreen was about a year and a half old, and LBB was 3ish. Too bad back then picture files were so small! But still – mission accomplished.

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We got in another D&D campaign as well. Our DM keeps saying ominous things, so I fear for the safety and longevity of my character (who is a 14-year-old girl who’s too smart for her own safety). PeaGreen plays a thief who is also a coward, and LBB’s character is an Elf who likes to help from afar. It’s been a really fun experience playing!

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This week, we have been pretty much totally back to normal. We’re off-schedule according to my year-calendar, so rather than this week being week 1 of 6, it’s actually week 2 of 7 to make up for our extra week off. As much as that doesn’t really ‘matter’ I will feel better when my books match up again.

Our field trip this week was Art Guild, and we worked on art prints a la Mary Cassatt. She was a truly interesting woman and this was one of the more interesting artist studies that we’ve done. The kids have more work do do on her life this week, but the actual prints were fun to make. We etched in Styrofoam and then used a brayer to put paint over the and pressed the paper to them to make the print.

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Not too shabby for being on the mend, if I do say so myself 😉
Warmly,
~h

 

 


March Into Spring 2016

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Spring has well and truly sprung in our little corner of Texas. It’s warm; the trees are blooming (which means pollen absolutely everywhere) and I’m sneezing my head off. Good times! Despite the respiratory distress, the weather has been incredible. We don’t get many days that make you savor being outside, so when they come, we try to take full advantage. This month has been no exception to that goal.

We wrapped up February with a trip out to the Big Thicket. That’s a pretty big place, if you’re not familiar with it. The Big Thicket National Preserve covers over a hundred thousand acres, and features nine different ecosystems, making it one of the most diverse national parks in the US. Currently, they’re on a mission to restore some of the native flora to the forests, and one of the big projects they’re working on is Centennial Forest. The long-leaf pine is a slow-growing pine tree that once dominated the Big Thicket, and forests from Texas all the way to Virginia. Over the years, the logging industry has decimated the population on long-leaf pines. The effects on the forests here have been interesting. Something I’ve always noticed is that in SETX, we don’t really have ‘forests’ – we have ‘woods’ – densely packed trees, with tons of underbrush – you can’t just wander through the woods like you see people do through forests in the movies. I always wondered why that is, and one of the park rangers explained it in a way I’d never heard.

Basically, when the old growth is cut down, it allows faster growing trees and shrubs room and sunlight to flourish. The addition of houses, settlements and roads has also changed the way that natural fires helped clear the forest floor, and let slower-growing trees mature properly. Once those slow-growers matured, the canopy they create prevents the underbrush from choking out the forest. By using controlled burns, herbicides and volunteers to come in and plant long leaf pines and other slow-growing native trees, they’re helping to restore what will eventually become a more balanced natural forest here. I won’t live to see it, but my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might. It’s neat to think that we will have had a hand in that.

Our homeschool group went out with 19 people (kids and adults), and joined a group of Park Rangers and other volunteers to plant 800 trees. Afterwards, we had lunch, then went for a short hike through an area of the forest where they are testing different methods of underbrush control, from fire clearing, to herbicides and clear-cutting. It was interesting to see how much work and actual science is involved in the restoration process.

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We collect badges and patches from all over the place, and we got a special one for participating in the Centennial Forest replanting effort:
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One of the things we look forward to each year is Texas Independence Day. I know other states don’t take the whole ‘state pride’ thing to the level that Texans do, and it’s funny to hear about it from non-natives; when you’re born here, it’s just a thing you do, I guess. Because we live so close, we usually head out to La Porte to visit the San Jacinto Monument, which stands on the battleground where the Texas Army fought General Santa Anna and won the battle for Texas Independence. It’s interesting to hear the story every year – I always pick up new details (even though I’ve heard the story many times).

After the monument, we lunch at the park grounds in front of Battleship TEXAS, which is where the Texas Army encampment is memorialized. There are stone markers all over the battlegrounds, with key positions or events marked. One day, we’ll get around to attending a re-enactment of the battle.

The Battleship wasn’t part of the fight for independence; rather, it is retired from service after both World Wars. Since it’s on the grounds though, that makes it a logical second half of the day’s trip. The kids always get a blast out of messing with the ship’s guns – they’re massive, and surprisingly easy to maneuver. The gears and cranks are all exposed, so it makes the physics of movement a highlight of the conversation. After climbing the insanely steep ladders and steps to get to the higher decks, we went below, and below, and below – they’ve opened up several of the lower decks since we were here last time, so we got to see a lot of the engines and piping down in the belly of the ship that we’d never seen before. There are some really tight spaces – I don’t think I’d like to actually be a sailor if I had to be down there all the time.

 

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In other news, LBB got glasses! Since both Loverly Husband and I both wear them (and have for basically ever), it was surprising to me that neither of the boys needed them. He’s been complaining about things being blurry for a few weeks though, so we got him checked out and sure enough, he’s joining the club. PeaGreen decided to make a drastic change to his look, too, with bleaching and dyeing his hair. The bleaching process was pretty dramatic, but once we dyed it (purple), it’s pretty subtle until he goes in the sun; then it’s really bright!

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We’re wrapping up this week with our homeschool group’s Teen Social, which we affectionately called, ‘Mix Tape and Chill’. We had each of the kids send in a list of 5 songs, and one of the moms made a playlist on YouTube to play during the event. She made a list of all the songs, and gave a paper to each of the kids so they could guess which kid picked which songs. They competed for a GameStop gift card. Both my boys opted out of the contest; I have no idea why – that’s one of their favorite stores. Kids?

The theme for the day was ‘games people play’, and they spent the afternoon doing just that, from video games, to ‘lines and blobs‘, to the pantyhose bowling game, and wrapping up with LARP style sword-fighting, which ended up paving the way to planning a LARP-based homeschool PE discussion in our group’s discussion list for later this month.

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How’s your spring going?
Warmly,
~h


The Value in Superheroes

superheroesI actually started this post a while back, but it got lost in the drafts folder as I moved on to other things to write about. With the soon-to-be-released Deadpool movie, and the rise in popularity of other superhero movies targeted at grown-ups over the last couple of years, the topic of ‘superheroes’ and their appropriateness and value have again resurfaced, so I thought I’d revive it.

When I started writing it, Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Brave were just hitting theaters, and I came across a question in a homeschool forum or discussion list about the content and opinions re: ‘would/did you take your kids to see it’. I commented that we had taken PeaGreen and some of his friends to see Brave, all boys, all older than him (ranging from 9 to 11), and that all the boys gave it a big thumbs way up. The discussion on-list was awesome – not ‘judgy’, but informative, for both films; ‘XYZ is what is in the movie; it may disturb sensitive or younger viewers’, and with links to one of the sites that gives factual info about movies, like Kids-in-Mind.com. I thought I was doing OK. I presented my opinion and moved on, thinking nothing of it. Then I got a reply-to comment with ‘FACEPALM’ in all caps, and was confused. I am not sure what that meant, but it felt like disapproval. I couldn’t tell if it was disapproval for taking my boys to see what they thought was an inappropriate movie, or for taking my ‘boys’ to see a ‘girls’ movie… either way, it rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with my views; just because something is not okay for your family doesn’t mean that we have to go by the same ‘rules’.

That same evening, Loverly Husband and I took our boys to see Batman. I admit, after reading some of the comments, I was a little iffy; I briefly considered talking to LH about leaving the kids and bringing them to see something else later on, but ultimately decided that it was something we could live with and took them anyway. Later, I was thinking about it, and some points came to mind, so I thought I’d share.

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Superhero violence vs. real-world violence:

One of the main objections, oddly for both movies (Brave and Batman) was violence. I’ve read that as a culture, Americans are less ‘sensitive’ to violence than other cultures. I don’t know how true that is, but maybe there’s some validity to that. I do know that however ‘violent’, nothing in that movie was real. I also feel like, for the most part, movie violence serves a purpose. It’s part of the villain’s agenda; a step towards his ultimate goal. It’s never random, or just for funsies. This applies to most of the other ‘superhero’ movies as well. My kids know the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasy, the bad guys do bad things, but eventually, the good guys always win. Even if it’s through multiple books, comics or movies, good always triumphs in the end. Contrast that with the real world: Good tried really hard, but the reality is that lots of criminals get away with their crimes. Lots of victimized families never get justice, and sometimes, even when we know that the accused is guilty, s/he gets off on a technicality. And not all crime or violence in the real world is ‘for’ something – it’s just random.

Do superhero films glorify violence? While it certainly makes the movie more interesting, glorify? No; I don’t think so. Even with the violence that is prevalent in the superhero genre, I think there is value in reinforcing the idea that ‘good triumphs over evil’… even if it isn’t always possible in real life. The starkness of the contrast between ‘fictional’ evil and real-world evil is evident in the news on a weekly basis. We’ve been watching CNN Student News as part of our curriculum for several years now, and even with the sanitized version of the news presented to children, there’s still a lot of really bad stuff covered – because that’s REALLY what’s happening in the world. Superheroes offer hope for the future – the idea that one person can, indeed, make a difference in the society they live in. Idealised? Sure – why take away the ideal?

Strong female lead characters:

Take Catwoman for example. In both the 1992 and 2012 version (I am totally not counting the Halle Berry version since that wasn’t really a superhero flick), Selina Kyle is/becomes a bad-ass woman who is not to be trifled with. She even saves Batman’s hide in a couple of scenes. She’s not the ideal version of a white-hat, but she isn’t a totally bad guy either, which is closer to how real villains are anyway. No real person, whether current or historical ‘public enemy No. 1’ is every a total bad guy. Even Hitler was an actual, real person with virtues as well as faults, and when we demonize ‘villains’ we forget that they’re real people. When I originally wrote this, Catwoman was on my mind simply because I’d seen her most recently, but now there are so many other strong female superheroes: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, even modern fiction and Disney are getting on board the Lady Train with Brave and Frozen, Rey in Star Wars, Katniss in the Hunger Games and Tris in the Divergent novels. Granted, there’s still a ways to go before female superheroes and main characters get the recognition they’re due, but we’re (mostly) headed in the right direction and having females in positions of power and able to ‘save’ themselves and others without aid from a man is vital to the equality discussion.

Our real life ‘strong female leads’ are there, but they’re not nearly as visible or accessible as male leaders, and they only make up a fraction of the total population of leaders. It’s only in recent years that strong females have been seen as marketable, and therefore ‘allowed’ to be cast as the hero. Take the Jessica Jones TV series, for example (no, my kids haven’t been allowed to watch it). I loved it for one simple reason: men were presented in many ways like women are usually presented in television and movies – as accessories. I would love to see other film an television producers move in that direction. Seeing women as whole people and not merely as add-ons to whatever a man has going on would be just lovely.

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The truth is that we teach our kids about violence from the cradle. ‘Rock-A-Bye, Baby’ features a cradle in the treetops, falling with the baby inside (presumably to its death). ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ beat her children soundly and sent them to bed hungry. ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ (if popular myth is to be believed) is a song about falling down dead from the Black Plague. Jack Sprat imprisoned his obese wife inside a gourd (though we’re assured that he kept her ‘very well’). Beloved children’s poet, Shel Siverstein teaches children that there’s a monster inside their nose who will bite off their finger if they stick it in too far or too much, and that it’s okay to sell your parents and order new ones. All of those stories and songs and nursery rhymes have one thing in common with modern day tales: fiction. Fiction, and hopefully parents who are there to help them make sense of the fantastical and separate it from reality.

So… maybe we’ll take our kids to see Deadpool, and maybe we won’t. Probably not. Yet.

Warmly,
~h