Blue

img_5628I wonder how many people are grappling with some sort of emotional fallout from the election last week.  This isn’t just disappointment that one’s preferred candidate didn’t win – this feels much different.  Speaking for myself, it feels like we as a country have been plunged into a time of great uncertainty and instability, and it’s scary as fuck.  And that’s compounded by the fact that the election results have revealed some very ugly truths about at least half of the American people, and the things they applaud, condone, or willfully ignore.  I still can hardly wrap my head around it, and when I think about the next four years, it is with a feeling of dread.

Life in Oregon is … well, life.  What’s that saying?  “Wherever you go, there you are.”  I love it here, I really do.  There are so many great things about this corner of the world, but I’m struggling, too.  The homesickness did hit.  It comes in fits and starts, and it’s not terrible or overwhelming, but I do frequently find myself feeling a little sad and a little isolated lately.  I miss the familiarity of Fullerton.  I miss knowing how to get everywhere and seeing familiar faces around town.  I dislike living in a temporary home, and I feel like a stranger, an outsider here.  Not that people aren’t friendly – people are noticeably nicer here than back in SoCal – but I’m on a learning curve right now, trying to find my way around, figure out the lay of the land and local customs and such, and it’s a little disconcerting.

Michael is out of town (back in SoCal, actually) on business for the second time since we moved here not even three weeks ago, so that makes it hard, too.  This will be a somewhat regular thing, so I need to adjust to that, too.  I managed to lock myself out of my truck at Target (not within walking distance to home) a few days ago – locked my phone, keys, purse, everything in my truck.  I had no money so I couldn’t call a cab. I was able to use the phone inside Target to call Michael, but he was stuck on a conference call with the court, so I had to wait in the freezing cold for an hour and a half for him to come with a spare key to my truck.  It was miserable, but all I kept thinking was, “What if this happened while he was out of town?  I don’t even know anyone here who I could call to help me out.”

Homeschooling here has been frustrating so far.  Locals say it’s super easy to homeschool here, but the laws are different from California, and I’m trying to navigate them.  All I had to do in California was file a Private School Affidavit with the state once a year, and that was it – I had complete autonomy.  Here, each child who is homeschooled has to be registered separately with the local school district and homeschooled students are required to undergo state testing every couple of years.  Which is fine, but if you have a kid with special needs or learning challenges, then you have to go through a whole other process to get an alternative to the testing.  So I’m feeling very stressed out about homeschooling Finn (on numerous fronts, which would take a whole separate post to delve into), and this has also brought me to the point of finally seeking a formal diagnosis of dyslexia for Lilah, which we never did in California because it’s so expensive.  So we are going through that process right now.

And Joey.  I thought I would just cobble together something for him for the rest of the school year – and I had some really cool programs picked out – but discovered that Oregon does not give high school credits for homeschoolers.  So we could have gone ahead and done our own thing anyway, and he could have “repeated” ninth grade next year when he’s enrolled back in public school, but he’s adamant about not wanting to do that.  So in the end, I enrolled him in an online charter school that is part of the Oregon public school system to ensure that he’s on track for earning the appropriate high school credits.  But that whole process has been a hassle and has resulted in quite a bit of stress.

We’ve totally fallen off our homeschool routine with the move, and having a hard time getting back on track.  There are materials I packed away that I can’t seem to find and have had to reorder things and that’s also made it hard to get back on track.  I’m finding that when Joey was in school before we moved, his school schedule had a way of giving our homeschool days some structure, and now that’s gone, although now that he’s finally started with the online school, at least he’s getting into a routine by necessity.

Anyway, I’m feeling generally overwhelmed. It’s hard being with the kids all day every day, and I’m not going to bother qualifying that statement or apologizing for it.  I’m at the point where I think I need to outsource some of this – it’s too much all on me.  I’m spread too thin and feel like I’m letting everyone down in some way.  So I’m exploring ways of taking some of this off my plate.  Maybe it means finding a co-op or having the kids take a class elsewhere on a regular basis.  Maybe it means paying for a tutor for Lilah instead of trying to address her (suspected) dyslexia myself.  Meanwhile, I’m also looking for a ballet studio for Daisy, horseback riding lessons for Annabelle, guitar lessons for Lilah, a theater program for Joey, and maybe it’s time for Finn and Scarlett to do some extracurriculars.

In time, I’m sure I’ll find my footing again.

 

2

Dark Times

It’s not that I was some great fan of Hillary Clinton, at least not before the Democratic National Convention.  I was surprised to find myself crying when she gave her speech accepting the Presidential nomination for the Democratic party.  It hit me that this was a historic moment: my daughters and I might actually see a woman in the White House.  That it’s 2016 and we are America – so smug and arrogant about our progressiveness – and we still haven’t put a woman in the White House is shameful and mind-boggling.  But suddenly it seemed as though we were going to flex our progressive, equitable muscles.

And like many, many people, I’ve been dumbfounded to see the likes of Donald Trump rising to the level of presidential nominee for one of our two major political parties.  How was it even possible that someone as vile as him – with a trail of well-documented (not just speculation, but cold, hard evidence, often in the form of video and audio of he himself saying and doing horrible things) – could make it onto the ballot?

But I took heart.  There was no way that my countrymen would actually vote him into office.  I mean, seriously – we’re America!  I know there are a lot of racist, misogynistic, bigoted, backward people in this country, but surely not enough of them to put someone like him in office.

And Hillary’s message grew on me.  Yes, we are stronger together.  I was moved by her speeches.  I was moved by the fact that her entire adult life has been spent in public service.  I was moved by her knowledge and experience and calm demeanor, even when she was being torn down.  I respected that she held her head high no matter what.  She would be a good leader, I believed that.

Like a lot of people, I turned on news coverage last night expecting a very different outcome.  I was pretty confident that America would see fit to put the right person in office.  I really believed that she would win by a comfortable margin.  When the numbers began coming in so close, I began to feel physically ill.  My stomach was in knots, my heart was thudding – a bona fide anxiety attack.  By the end of the night, I was in tears.  I barely slept last night.

How did we get here?

I feel betrayed.  I feel a great anger – not only at all the people who actually voted for Donald Trump, an unqualified, ill-tempered, vindictive, childish, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, lying, cheating, woman abuser, but for all the third party voters and abstainers who allowed this to happen.  I’m sure when you wrote in your uncle’s name or your favorite cartoon character’s name or filled in the bubble for Jill Stein, you felt morally superior in the moment.  Well, fuck you. You not only threw your vote away, you handed it to a monster.  How do you feel now?

What am I supposed to tell my daughters?  Or my sons?  Do I lie to them?  Or do I tell them the truth: that no, America is not ready for a female president, and we would rather have an inexperienced, loose cannon, lying, cheating, prejudice, woman assaulter in the White House than a qualified, experienced, even-tempered woman who has devoted herself to causes that serve the public interest?

I am trying to tell myself that life will go on, pretty much as usual.  That this will have very little effect on my family’s daily existence.  But I don’t know if that’s actually true.  I fear that the likes of Trump will drag us into another recession, that he cares so little about diplomacy and foreign policy that he will drag us into a horrible war.  I don’t think those fears are unfounded.  But even if my family’s lives aren’t impacted much, it would be utterly selfish to not worry about all the immigrants who now have to worry about deportation and having their families ripped apart, about the LGBT community who now has to worry about their marriages being nullified, about the Muslims who will be harassed and scrutinized and distrusted because Trump thinks they’re all potential terrorists.  And even if my day-to-day life goes on as usual, I live with the knowledge that my family lives in a country in which lying and cheating get a pass, sexual assault against women is acceptable, that abusers aren’t held accountable.

I am sickened.  And very, very afraid.

11

Oregon Is Home Now

We’ve been here a week now, and the flurry of unpacking and getting settled is beginning to die down a bit.

untitledOur drive up here went pretty smoothly.  Four days of driving two cars (Michael drove my truck, hauling a small U-Haul, and I drove his car), and we never got separated.  Four nights in crappy motels (me in one room with half the kids, him in another room with half the kids and a dog).  I think it was our second day of driving that my truck broke down, but a local mechanic actually came to the motel we were staying at and fixed it (replacing the alternator) right there in the parking lot, in the rain.  That was in Northern California, and I swear, the people seem to get nicer the farther north you go.  That was really the only glitch we had.  The kids did well with the drive; we had plenty of stuff to keep them busy, and we made pit stops fairly often.  Scout, our 5-year old Chocolate Lab, was an awesome traveler, which totally surprised us all.  We saw some of the most breathtaking scenery along the way, including Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta (it was too foggy to see Mt. Shasta).

The movers arrived with our stuff last Sunday, and I’ve spent the past week getting the household set up.  I’ve unpacked pretty much everything we need for the short term, and the rest stays boxed up until we eventually buy a house and move again.

The house we’re renting is very nice, in a very nice neighborhood.  It’s totally not me, though.  Very cookie-cutter, everything is uniform and overseen by an HOA.

Our house is the one with the white truck in the driveway.

Our house is the one with the white truck in the driveway.

I’m not complaining; I feel very fortunate.  It’s hard to feel like we’re “home,” though, since this is temporary.  I can’t wait to start exploring Oregon and house hunting, which we’ll probably undertake after the first of the year.

The kids are adjusting pretty well, although they’ve been fairly house-bound because we don’t know anyone here.  They do take Scout for walks, and have taken their bikes out to explore the neighborhood a couple of times.  Now that I’m done with most of the unpacking, we need to get back to homeschooling, which I intend to do this coming week.  Oregon seems to be a very homeschool-friendly state, with lots of homeschooling resources, but the legal requirements are different from California, so I’m trying to navigate all of that.  Also, trying to figure out what to do with Joey has been stressful, as I will homeschool him just for the rest of this school year, and put him back in school when we buy a house and settle somewhere permanently – so I have to make sure that he meets all of the high school freshman credit requirements this year.  I’d really like to find some stuff outside of home for the kids to be involved in, to broaden their experiences and get them out and around other people – but I already find myself falling into a rabbit hole of overwhelming options.  Since there are so many of them, and they each have different interests, it’s going to be difficult to coordinate outside activities in such a way that I’m not constantly driving all over the place.

It’s gorgeous up here.  Trees, trees, and more trees.  Green everywhere.  And actual fall colors!  Such a change from hot, dry, dead, brown SoCal.  It’s chilly to downright cold.  We’ve had a fair amount of rain already, and I’m loving it.  It’s usually foggy in the mornings, with blankets of fog creating these stunning pictures –

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The people up here are so nice.  It really is a different vibe.  In SoCal, for instance, driving is every man for himself, everyone hurrying to get wherever they’re going, driving like their destination is more important than everyone else’s (and I don’t exclude myself from this).  The drivers here seem way more mellow and just courteous.  People in stores are very friendly and polite.  I’m not walking around thinking everyone’s an asshole.  I’m really seeing how cynical and defensive existing in the rat race of the OC has made me, and I’m afraid it’s going to blow my cover of being an outsider!

I miss my friends, I miss walking up the street to have a drink or knit with a friend, I miss Kevin (though we text or talk on the phone every day – and he’s coming up for Thanksgiving!), I miss the familiarity of SoCal somewhat, but I have not felt homesick.  Maybe I’ve been too busy – maybe it will hit me soon.  Or maybe it won’t.  Mostly, I feel a sense of contentment.  I think we made the right move.

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2

#solongsocal

Well, it’s been a little over a year since Michael and I started talking about it, and now it’s really happening: we are moving to Oregon this week.  The movers are coming on Tuesday to load up all of our stuff, and we will hit the road on Wednesday, arriving in Portland next Saturday.

We talked about moving away from California several years ago, but it just seemed too daunting – and we had fewer kids then!  It turns out that it is an extremely daunting undertaking after all, and sometimes I can’t believe we’re doing it.  YOLO, and all that.

It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster. Sifting through over a decade worth of accumulated stuff, deciding what to part with and what to pack, has been physically and mentally exhausting.  Figuring out all the logistics of uprooting our big bad family, watching the kids struggle with their emotions, and saying goodbye to the people and places that we love and are so familiar has been so bittersweet.  Sometimes I have moments of panic when I think, “What the fuck are we doing?  Are we doing the right thing, uprooting everyone and leaving all of this behind?”  It’s exciting and scary as hell.

Kevin moved out a week ago.  For the time being, he is right up the street, and he’s been stopping by every day to hang out for a while, which has been so nice, and he texts me every day – sometimes we have these great texting conversations at night after he gets off work.  So I’m very grateful for that connection with him.  When we leave in a couple of days and end up 1,000 miles away from him, I think it will really hit me then, and I don’t guess it will be easy.  He is going to try to get some time off work and go up and spend Thanksgiving with us.

We signed a lease on a house outside of Portland, so we’ll be there until we decide where we want to settle permanently and buy a house.  I’m lusting after some space; it would be heavenly to have an acre or two – not out in the sticks, but I’m tired of being so close to my neighbors that I can hear them fart.

It’s surreal to walk through this house, with its rooms half empty and boxes stacked ten deep and halfway to the ceiling in the living room.  I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in this house, and it’s so full of memories.  When we moved into this house, Kevin had just turned 8, Joey was 2, the twins were 6 months old, and I thought this would be our forever home.  Three of my kids were born right here in the house, and all of them have spent all or most of their childhoods here, and one of them reached adulthood.  We lived through Michael having cancer in this house, lots of marital ups and downs, having a child with a disability, more birthdays and Christmases and Halloween costumes than I can count.  So much that has shaped us in ways we probably don’t even realize.

I’ll take my memories with me.

Here’s to new adventures.

2

Fade to Black

In the process of packing up the house in anticipation of our move, I’ve unearthed boxes that have been stowed in the

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

farthest, darkest corners of the garage.  Boxes that haven’t been opened in more than 17 years.  The boxes contained things that belonged to my first husband – who, as I’ve written before, died of a drug overdose in a stranger’s front yard in June, 1999.  A lot of photos, including his old school photos dating back to early grade school.  Collector coins his dad foisted on him every year for Christmas.  A video tape of his first (and only) skydive.  An old blanket.  Old cards.  Books from his childhood.  Old schoolwork.  His wallet, which was on his person when he died.  Belongings found in his truck after his death.  Our wedding rings.

I boxed this stuff up after he died, and wrote on the boxes: “KELLY’S STUFF – SAVE FOR KEVIN.”  Kevin was two when his dad died, and I believed that it was important to save mementos for Kevin because Kevin would want them someday.  I assumed he would long for some connection to the man who contributed half of his DNA.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly.  May, 1999, about a month before he died.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly. May, 1999, about a month before he died.

As it turns out, though, Kevin has no interest in any of this stuff.  He has no memories of his biological father, and he mostly feels contempt for him, knowing that he was a wife-beater, a liar, an unapologetic manipulator, alcoholic, and drug addict who couldn’t or wouldn’t get his shit together, even for his baby son.  It’s true that I’m responsible for Kevin’s perception of his father, but it’s all based on pure truth, and if I have any regrets about being brutally honest with Kevin about Kelly, those regrets have only to do with how it has possibly shaped Kevin’s self-perception, and not with anything I may owe to Kelly’s memory.  I didn’t set out to poison Kelly against his dead father, but I always answered his questions with total honesty, and by the time he was an adolescent, he had a pretty clear picture of what life was like for me and for us when Kelly was alive.

After all these years, I still carry around bitterness and pain and anger towards Kelly for everything he did.  I don’t dwell on it, but the hard kernel of it in my heart swells when memories come to the surface.  I struggle to dredge up any happy memories (though I have no doubt there were happy times; it’s just that what good there was was way overshadowed by the ugliness that went on for so many years).

So, I don’t want his old stuff.  Kevin doesn’t want it.  And it occurred to me today as I tossed most of it into our rented dumpster (with the exception of the coins and the books, which are going to Goodwill) that there really isn’t anyone left who cares about these old mementos.  Kelly’s biological mother is long dead, his dad is dead, and his one living brother has made not even the tiniest shred of effort to know or connect with Kevin – his nephew! the one child of his dead brother! – in the more than 17 years since Kelly died (which tells me that he also doesn’t care).  The one living person who might care would be Kelly’s step-mother, but she’s got plenty of mementos already, and anyway, she cut me out of her life years ago.  So into the dumpster Kelly’s stuff went.

Maybe it reveals me as cold.  On some level, it strikes me as sad that a person lived for 33 years and died, and his memory is fading to black.  But mostly, I feel like, well, this is what happens when you live like a son of a bitch, leaving destruction in your wake.

2

For the Love of Books and Friends

img_5095Friday night I said an emotional and bittersweet goodbye to my book club.  We met for dinner, and they gave me a sendoff I wasn’t quite expecting, presenting me with the book journal that documents every book we’ve read together (136 books!), and which Julia has been keeping for the group for many years, another small journal in which they had each written a heartfelt message to me about a special memory they have of our group, and a ridiculously large gift card to Powell’s bookstore in Portland (a book lover’s wet dream; it’s the world’s largest independent bookstore, and takes up an entire city block).

A little over thirteen years ago, a handful of us moms started a little book club as an outcropping of the MOMS Club we belonged to.  Our first book was Memoirs of a Geisha, and our first discussion took place on the playground at a local park while our kids played.  I had only two kids back then, and Joey was just a baby.  It wasn’t long before we started meeting at each other’s houses in the evenings, without kids, and with food and drink.  I’ve been allowed to be the coordinator of the group for all these years because I’m a control freak, which these ladies kindly refer to as my “organization skills”  Many women have come and gone over the years, but three of us are original members, several have been in the group for ten years or more, and several more for five years or more.  There are stay-at-home moms, teachers, an accountant, an actuary, an attorney, a real estate agent, among others, and we come from diverse backgrounds and run the gamut on religious beliefs, political leanings, and parenting philosophies.  Despite all the differences – or maybe because of them – we’ve remained a strong core group.  There has never been a month without a book, without a discussion, or without a volunteer to host the discussion.  Several years ago we started a tradition of having a holiday dinner in December in lieu of a book discussion, with a gift exchange of – what else? – books.

My friend Laurel, sums up our group perfectly: we went from passing around nursing babies to passing around reading glasses.

Every book we’ve read – even the ones that sucked – generated a good discussion.  We followed published questions to guide our discussions, but we invariably sidetracked into discussions about our own lives and experiences.  And isn’t that the true magic of books – that they provide such rich opportunities to not only escape from real life, but to see other perspectives and experiences and reflect on our own?  My daughter Daisy has often asked me why we call it a “book club” when it should be called a “life club.”

I am so grateful to have been a part of such a dynamic group of women and readers.  I will miss them.

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0

Homeschooling Curricula: Try, Ditch, Repeat

So, I’ve been wanting to document our progression through various homeschooling curricula, thinking it might be useful to someone out there.  The biggest thing I’ve learned about homeschooling, by far, is that it is such a process of trial and error.  If there’s any family out there who began with a certain method or program or curriculum and stuck with it year after year, then I’d say they’re either extremely fortunate to have hit pay dirt right out of the gate, or they’re foolishly inflexible.

When I began homeschooling Lilah two years ago, everything was really a shot in the dark for me.  All I had to go on as far as choosing curricula for her was the recommendations of people I knew who had homeschooled, and the charter school we were enrolled with at that time – which charter school was also a choice I made purely on recommendation.  Recommendations, I have figured out, though, are only a jumping off point.  Just because a program works well for some kids or some families, and just because that program may get a lot of 5-star reviews from people who review such things, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good fit for every kid and every family.

Towards the end of my first year of homeschooling, I bought Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschooling Curriculum.  Cathy Duffy is known as a homeschooling guru, and her specialty is writing comprehensive reviews of homeschooling curricula.  Although she clearly has a bias in favor of Christian homeschooling and curricula, she does at least make note in her reviews of whether a program is Christian, Christian-friendly, or secular.  When I read her book of Top Picks, I rejoiced in having it all laid out for me.  It helped me figure out my own educational philosophy and goals, what kind of learners my girls are, and curricula that would (in theory, anyway) fit all of that.  I went into the next school year, when I added the twins to the mix, excited and fully prepared to have a smooth and productive school year, having painstakingly chosen curricula that would (supposedly) be a perfect fit for us.

It was only a matter of a couple of months, however, before most of the programs and materials I had so carefully purchased on Cathy Duffy’s recommendations, were ditched in frustration.  Everyone was miserable and frustrated and not really making much academic progress, so I did something a little drastic and put most of the stuff away and decided to take a little bit of an unschooling approach.  Everyone was happier, but it created stress in a different way because now I was asking myself, “Am I an unschooler now?  What does that mean?  Am I unschooling the right way?”  Also, by the end of the year, the girls had really made very little progress in math, and that worried me (because, as I’ve said, I tend to operate on an “If I died tomorrow and Michael had to put them back in public school …” basis).  So I felt like this school year, we needed to find some kind of balance where we (and by “we,” I mean “I”) would not be applying labels to ourselves or trying to live up to those labels, we would be more structured in our approach with the simple goal of growing and making progress, but the girls would still be active participants in deciding on a weekly routine and in taking responsibility for their own learning.

So far, almost two months in, the school year is going well.  It’s more hectic than ever now that I’m also homeschooling Finn and Scarlett, but I feel like we’ve settled into a routine that works for us and have found some programs that we’re happy with.

So, without further ado, here’s a rundown of what we’ve used, and how these programs have worked for us:

MATH:

Singapore Math: This math program was the first I used, or tried to use, with Lilah, on the recommendation of a friend.  It’s a very highly rated math curriculum, based on how math is taught in Singapore, a country that apparently scores really high in math in global standardized testing.  It’s definitely a “rigorous” curriculum.  We ran into problems right away with it, though, because Lilah was already struggling with math (in part because of being dyslexic, which I didn’t know at the time).  Also, it was frustrating for me because it wasn’t the way I learned math, so it was very difficult for me to understand a lot of the lessons, let alone to teach them to Lilah.  For purposes of homeschooling, I think this could be a really good program for a kid who is already strong in math, and it could be a good choice for a young child who is just learning math (in other words, who hasn’t already learned math a different way).  However, it’s not such a great choice, despite its ratings, for a kid who struggles with math, because the rigor and intensity can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of defeat.  I also think, overall, that it’s a difficult program to adopt after a child has already been learning math according to a different method or program.  In the end, this was not a good fit for us.

Math-U-See: This math program utilizes manipulatives and visuals to make math more concrete and multi-sensory, and the lessons are all on DVDs that are purchased with the different levels of the program.  I actually liked this program for the most part.  I loved that the lessons are taught by a teacher by way of video.  My girls didn’t like it, however, because the video lessons can be rather long, and the program is very worksheet-based.  So: boring.  It ended up being one more thing for them to drag their feet about, and I don’t see the value of remaining committed to a program that’s causing more frustration than payoff.  Also, although Math-U-See is a secular math curriculum, it comes from a Christian-based company, and there are occasional Christian references thrown into the lessons.  Not a huge deal, but irritating to anyone not interested in faith-based education.

Life of Fred:  This math program is very different from most other math programs out there in that it’s story-based.  There are no formal lessons; instead, each lesson is incorporated into an ongoing story about a five-year-old math genius named Fred, the premise being that kids learn math better and easier by seeing how it applies to real-life situations.  At the end of each chapter is a list of word problems for the student to solve, using what has been explained in the story.  The story is entertaining, and my girls were very excited about it at first because it was such a complete switching of gears.  After awhile, though, the novelty wore off, especially for Lilah, for whom the “lessons” were just too abstract, being sort of hidden within a story.  Even for Daisy and Annabelle, who generally do pretty well in math (although neither is very fond of it), it grew confusing after a time, because it was often hard to connect the word problems to the story.  Like Singapore Math, I think this program may work better if it’s used from the outset of learning math, and like Math-U-See, there are Christian references sprinkled here and there.  We stuck with Life of Fred for the remainder of the school year last year, but at the end of the school year I didn’t feel that any of the girls had made very much progress in math at all, and that worried me.

CTC Math: This is what we are using now, and I love it!  So do the girls!  There are no textbooks or materials to buy; it’s simply a subscription to video lessons online.  There are no worksheets, either.  Each lesson is short and sweet, which I think is absolutely essential in order to hold the student’s attention and foster success.  When lessons are too long, kids get bored and distracted, and less is absorbed and retained.  In the video lessons, there is no teacher standing in front of a whiteboard (like in Math-U-See); it’s a cool dude with an Aussie accent talking, but all you see is computer graphics demonstrating what he’s talking about.  Each lesson is on average about ten minutes long, and then there is a set of questions to answer/problems to solve.  Paper and pencil may be used, but the final answer is entered online and feedback is given immediately for each answer.  Parents set the “passing” percentage, which allows the student to move on to the next lesson/level, and each lesson builds on concepts taught and mastered in previous lessons.  If the passing percentage is not met, the student can rewatch the lesson as many times as necessary, and try more problems, until the concept is mastered.  It seems to cut out a lot of the fluff, so lessons go pretty quickly.   It’s not unusual for my girls to complete four or five lessons each day, and that takes less than an hour.  Daisy and Annabelle did not have a good handle, I felt, on sixth-grade math at the beginning of the year, but with this program, they’ve both mastered sixth-grade math already and are now doing pre-algebra.  It takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of me, because I’m not teaching them math, the program is, which is a relief, because math has never been my strong suit.  They’re learning it on their own and working at whatever pace they want to.  So far, they’re all pretty motivated – I haven’t had to hassle any of them at all to do math.  I know this could all change, of course, but right now I will say that this is the best math program we’ve found.

Touch Math: I’m using the pre-k level with Scarlett right now, very informally (I’ve also tried it with Finn, but it hasn’t gone so well, mainly because it’s so difficult to convince him to sit at a table and do any sort of work with me.)  For now, it’s a good program for Scarlett to get her comfortable with number recognition, counting, one-to-one correspondence, and simple addition and subtraction, but I doubt we’ll stick with it for the long term.  I’d like to get her started on the kindergarten level of CTC Math next year.

SCIENCE:

Imagine my surprise when I Googled “Best Homeschooling Science Programs” and discovered that it is actually necessary to specify “Best Secular Homeschooling Science Programs.”  I’m not kidding.  If you don’t specify secular, the default search results for homeschooling science programs are Christian-based and Christian-informed.

Elemental Science:  This is an award-winning science curriculum that has levels from preschool through high school.  It’s very much in line with a classical or literature-based education philosophy.  You purchase the core textbooks, and then there are a plethora of third-party books that must be purchased (through Amazon or other sources).  We used Biology for the Grammar Stage for a while last year but ended up not liking it much.  My girls were bored with it, and I was disappointed because it didn’t really go into much depth on the topics; each week we seemed to just skim the surface of things.  That said, I think this is a really good program, and the problems we had with it were probably simply because I chose a level that was too young for them.  I can’t say what kind of engagement and challenge the more advanced levels provide because we didn’t use any (although I did purchase Earth Science and Astronomy for the Logic Stage, but never used it; we may give it a try next year).

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey:  We are using Biology 2 this year and loving it!  I am so impressed with this program.  It is very comprehensive, very engaging, and very hands-on.  Every week there is a reading portion, a practical lab, a microscope lab, capped off with “Show What You Know,” which can be administered like a quiz if that floats your boat, but I like to sit down with the girls and just verbally go over the questions and discuss what we learned over the week.  There are a good amount of materials that have to be purchased to do all the labs (including, among other things, a good microscope, and preserved frogs; we have three dead frogs sitting in a box waiting to be dissected).  The Student Workbook, which serves as a textbook and has all the lab report forms, etc., is HUGE, and a lot of material is covered, but it’s not dry or boring at all.  We are all really enjoying it, and learning a lot.  The only criticism I have, if you can call it a criticism, is that Biology 2, the level we are doing this year, is as high as this program goes.  They don’t offer anything beyond middle school-level science, and I wish they did.

LANGUAGE ARTS:

Growing With Grammar; Soaring With Spelling; Winning With Writing:  I used these with Lilah the first year I homeschooled her.  It’s an okay program.  Nothing super impressive about it; it’s your basic grammar/spelling/writing curriculum.  A little dry, and less than engaging, so, in the long run, I don’t know that it really utilizes anything special that makes it all meaningful for the student.

Essentials in Writing: I used this with all three girls for a while last year.  It utilizes video lessons and workbooks.  None of us cared for it.  The guy who teaches the video lessons isn’t that great, the lessons are sprinkled with biblical references, and in the end, it’s just another program that teaches diagramming sentences (and really, what is the point of this?), etc.  Didn’t care for it.

Spelling You See: Produced by the same folks who offer Math-U-See, this spelling curriculum has an interesting method of teaching spelling.  Each week the student reads an entry that is a couple of paragraphs long.  Within the entry are a number of words that are highlighted in different colors, and those are the spelling words for the week.  The same entry is read on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the spelling words copied by the student and the segments of each spelling word color coded in highlighter according to certain spelling rules, and on Friday, the student writes the spelling words from dictation.  It’s an interesting concept, but it was sort of like slow torture.  The twins were completely bored with it, and Lilah struggled.  She could copy the words perfectly day after day, but when it came to writing them from dictation, it all fell apart.  I really am grateful to this program, actually, for being the catalyst that brought me to the realization that Lilah’s struggles were attributed to something which turned out to be dyslexia/dysgraphia.  In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that having kids memorize spelling words, testing them on those words, and then moving on to a new list of spelling words, is not really a very good way to teach spelling, so we ditched this program a couple of months into the school year.  We actually don’t use a spelling program anymore (except Lilah, with whom I’m using a program that addresses dyslexia; more about that below).  I think the best way for kids to learn how to spell once they’ve got the fundamentals down is just by writing and reading.

Writing Strands: This is what we’re using now, and the jury is still out on this one.  The philosophy behind this one is that kids learn to write well by learning how to follow instructions and by actual writing, rather than by learning to diagram sentences, recognize parts of speech and sentence types, etc.  That’s what appealed to me about this program: the hands-on learn by doing part, but the girls and I are finding it to be a little slow going and boring.  I’m not sure we’ll stick with it.

I’ve heard great things about Brave Writer, but now is not a great time for us to take on a whole different program since we’re undertaking a big move in a few weeks that will necessitate putting school on temporary hiatus.  I may give Brave Writer a try once we’re settled in our new digs, or I may look for a creative writing class that the girls can take with other homeschoolers.

So, writing is actually the one subject that I haven’t yet found a good fit for.  I think I’m a pretty decent writer, but teaching how to write well is a challenge, and I feel like writing well is so important in life, but it’s also hard to come by.  So, the search goes on.

DYSLEXIA-SPECIFIC READING AND SPELLING:

Barton Reading: Barton is pretty much the gold standard in dyslexia circles.  It’s an Orton-Gillingham based program, which I will not even try to explain (but you can read about it here), but it’s really an excellent approach to teaching reading and spelling not only to dyslexic students, but really to anyone, because it breaks words down into their parts and gives students to tools to understand why words are built the way they are, and how letters interact with each other to form different sounds.  I used Barton with Lilah for several months and found it to be very effective.  However, it’s also very expensive and very time-intensive, as each lesson requires the teacher/parent to watch instructional videos that teach how to teach each lesson.  A few months back, we switched to:

All About Reading/All About Spelling: While this program, unlike Barton, was not developed, nor is it marketed, specifically with dyslexia in mind, it is an Orton-Gillingham based program, so it is an excellent program to use with dyslexic students.  I like it much better than Barton because it’s far less expensive, it incorporates more fun activities so it’s less dry, and it’s a scripted, ready to teach out of the box program, requiring no special instruction for the teacher/parent.  Unlike Barton, too, AAR/AAS teaches reading and spelling separately, which I like.  As I said, I think the Orton-Gillingham approach is a superior way to teach any child reading and spelling, so I’m also using the preschool level with Scarlett now, and she loves it.

HISTORY/GEOGRAPHY:

We haven’t used a formal program until this year.  The first year I had Lilah at home, we studied California history using California History For Kids, which is an excellent book full of information and activities.

Last year, the girls and I read together A Young People’s History of the United States, also excellent (I highly recommend this book).  It was geat reading that led to a lot of deep discussions of both historical and modern social issues, and throughout the year we detoured into further reading elsewhere on certain topics (like the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving), as well as watching documentaries.  I felt like we covered a lot of good ground in U.S. History.

Trail Guide to U.S. Geography: This is what we are using this year, and I am pretty impressed with it.  We are spending the year touring the United States by region, beginning with New England and working our way south and west, covering two states each week.  The program is pretty comprehensive and multi-level; I love that all three girls are covering the same material each week, but at different levels (the twins are more advanced and so their assignments are written for middle school level, while Lilah’s is elementary school level).  For each state, the girls do mapping as well as research on various characteristics of the state and notable people from that state (so there is a bit of history incorporated as well).  The girls have learned to use a desk atlas and to read maps, which is cool.  To make it even more fun, we try to cook a dish or two each week from the states we learned about that week.  Next year we’ll move on to Trail Guide to World Geography.

OTHER STUFF:

Handwriting Without Tears: This is an excellent program that teaches printing and cursive writing.  The three older girls are using it for cursive for the second year running (they all learned basic cursive when they were still in school, but I appreciate the practice they get with this), and Scarlett is learning to print with this program.

Touch, Type, Read and Spell: This is a program that teaches touch typing, and it’s also supposed to improve spelling as the student learns proper keyboarding.  My girls use this program totally independently, and I can see the value with regard to keyboarding.  The twins are already pretty good spellers, and Lilah’s spelling difficulties are being addressed in another way, so I’m not sure if this program is useful to us in that particular way.

Tinker Crate: This is just a subscription that provides a new science/engineering project once a month.  My girls love it!

Raddish Kids:  This is another subscription I signed up for, and this one is about food and cooking.  Once a month a box is delivered to us that contains themed recipes (for instance, our August box was inspired by the Rio Olympics and had recipes for Brazillian dishes), a shopping list, a culinary lesson, and dinner table activities.  We look forward to receiving our box every month!

***

So, there you have it.  I feel like we are having a pretty great year of learning and growth this year, but it’s a lot, and it’s all on me.  While I am happy with the materials and programs we are using, I really am hoping that once we settle in Oregon, where there is apparently a much stronger secular homeschooling network, I can find a co-op to involve ourselves in or classes the kids can take with other homeschooled kids.  Finding a strong homeschooling network is the final frontier for us.

 

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Colin Kaepernick, Racism, and the Nature of Protest

I don’t give a shit about football, and I never even heard of Colin Kaepernick before a few days ago when Facebook exploded with posts and links to articles about his sitting out the national anthem preceding a game last week.  Much of what I’ve read has been couched in outrage and hostility towards Kaepernick.  Words and phrases like “inappropriate,” “offensive,” and “disrespectful” pepper these missives.  Donald Trump (you know, the guy who is running for President – a position that is supposed to understand and honor the Constitution?) has suggested that Kaepernick leave the country if he doesn’t like it here.

I am completely dumbfounded by these particular sentiments.  What, exactly, is protest supposed to look like?  Is it supposed to be polite?  What would “appropriate” and “respectful” protest look like?  What would an acceptable form of protest be?

By its very nature, protest is supposed to speak volumes.  It’s supposed to piss people off.  It’s supposed to rattle cages.  It’s supposed to challenge the masses, rock the boat, and call into question the status quo.  Protest is supposed to get people’s attention.  That’s the whole point.

Did Kaepernick harm anyone?  Did he engage in unlawful behavior in his protest?  No.  He quietly sat down, that’s all.  Did this act upset people?  Yes, because it flies in the face of an arrogant brand of patriotism that borders on religion.  To some, love of country demands not only from oneself the observation of all the adopted rituals and worship of the adopted symbols, but that everyone else do the same.  It’s groupthink at its best.

I’m not even going to get into the fact that American patriotism is supposed to mean that if you value the freedoms afforded by being American, then you don’t vilify someone for exercising those very freedoms – you know, like the First Amendment.

So a lot of people don’t like the method by which Kaepernick chose to protest.  Refusing to stand for the national anthem (which is a form of protest not original to Kaepernick, and which song – originally a poem – was born of a bigoted slave owner) is, apparently, profoundly disrespectful to the United States of America and everything she stands for (as if the USA were a living, flesh and blood, feeling entity, and not a collection of many, many individual living, flesh and blood, feeling people, including Kaepernick), to the freedoms we hold dear (refer to previous paragraph), and to the US military (that’s a stretch, but okay … however, let us not forget then, that the US military is comprised of many, many black people who are subject to the very racism and injustice that Kaepernick is protesting).  Don’t we need to ask ourselves in the face of this what exactly America stands for?  And whether America is living up to those ideals?  Does a country that endorses racial profiling and the mass criminalization and incarceration of people of color live up to the ideals of freedom and liberty for all?  Does a country that doesn’t hold its law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killings of black people over and over and over live up to the ideal of equality among all of its citizens?  No, I don’t think so.

With regard to his action being disrespectful to the country, I have to confess that I agree – his sitting down for the national anthem is disrespectful to the country.  But guess what – that’s the point.  He stated pretty succinctly when asked that he will not show respect for a country that shows so little respect for people of color.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

So, yeah, I think he’s getting his message across loud and clear.  The only people who aren’t hearing him are those who aren’t listening because they’re too busy being focused on their own indignation.

And this is why racism is still alive and kicking here in this great country.  Because too often, the voices crying out in protest, in pain, in fear, in frustration, are stifled by opposing cries of indignation.  Say #blacklivesmatter, and the masses are at the ready with their #allivesmatter.  Rants about the horrors of another unarmed black person being shot and killed by police are met with rants defending cops.  Decrying the mass incarceration of black and brown skinned people is met with counter-cries about black and brown skinned people’s lack of respect for the law and common decency.  It doesn’t matter how the protest is made; it never seems to be acceptable.

Now that I’ve been educated about the Star Spangled Banner, I’m not sure I’ll be standing up for it when the occasion arises.  And I will educate my kids about both sides – its history, the symbol of patriotism it represents to many, and the oppression and bigotry it represents to many others – and let them decide for themselves how to approach it.

As for Colin Kaepernick, he expected the backlash.  We Americans are nothing if not predictable.

5

Homeschooling: Lessons From the Trenches

It’s hard to believe, but we are already embarking on our fourth week of the school year.  This is my third year homeschooling, but only my first year homeschooling five kids (counting Scarlett, which I do since she follows me around all day saying, “Mommy, will you do school with me now?  Mommy, can we do school now?”).  I remember back when I was new to this homeschooling gig and only homeschooling one kid, and thinking, “Wow, I have no idea how anyone manages to homeschool multiple kids at different ages and learning levels.”  But here I am, doing exactly that, and let me tell you: it’s pretty much as hairy as I imagined it must be.  Don’t be fooled by my Instagram photos; they capture but a slice of our homeschooling life.  Between those photos are sweat, tears, a little yelling, and plenty of angst.  It has truly become a full-time job for me, and although it’s not all easy and fun, I do feel like it’s the right thing for my kids at this point in time.

I want to write a post about the specific programs we’ve tried and ditched and what we’re using now, but that will have to be a separate post, and who knows when I’ll get around to writing it.  Right now, I just want to document where we are on this road – you know, for solidarity with those of you who are traveling a similar road and maybe are looking for something beyond the typical homeschooling blogs that show sun-dappled children creating magical art in obvious harmony with the universe.

So, first, let me say that I don’t do grade-specific homeschooling.  My big thing is meeting my kids where they are, and going from there.  Grade levels are arbitrary, and I think they tend to do a disservice to kids by setting up an assembly line environment of learning, where every kid is expected to progress at a prescribed pace.  That’s not what I want for my kids.  Unfortunately, the three older girls – but mostly the twins – have been sufficiently brainwashed by public school that they are having a hard time letting go of the whole grade level thing.  Annabelle, especially, insists that she’s in seventh grade; it seems very important to her to hold on to this status.  (Frankly, if I died today and Michael put them back in public school, I don’t feel like Annabelle or Daisy would be quite ready for seventh grade; as I’ve mentioned before, they have a late September birthday and started kindergarten before they were 5, something I regret.)

Although I am not wed to grade levels, they are always floating somewhere on the edge of my consciousness, because I do operate on that whole “If I died today and Michael put them back in public school” mentality.  So, although I very much try to meet them where they are and help them progress and grow from there, I do worry about whether they are “keeping up.”  Which is a total mind-fuck.  But, hey, so is motherhood.

Anyway, I feel like last year we slacked a little too much.  I don’t want my kids to be miserable learners; I don’t want it to feel coerced to them.  I dream about being that homeschooling family with the sun-dappled children creating magical art in obvious harmony with the universe.  I gave them a lot of say last year in how we would do things, and I backed off on what I would require them to do.  In some ways it was good; it reduced the stress and pressure for all of us somewhat.  It allowed them to take charge of their own learning to a degree.  But in truth, there are just some kids who will do as little as possible because that’s their nature (and I’m not naming names, but one of their names rhymes with Bannabelle, and the other isn’t Kevin, Joey, Daisy, Finn, or Scarlett).  At the end of the school year, I had mixed feelings about what we accomplished, and I went into this school year wanting very much to push them a little harder while still attempting to make it fun and engaging.  I want to keep them curious, not burn them out.  It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Here’s where probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned comes in.  I stumbled on a blog post a while ago while I was killing time on the web – I wish I had saved it, but I didn’t, and can’t seem to find it now, so I apologize for not being able to give credit where credit is due – that said something like “Stop trying to be so committed to labels.”  It was a post about homeschooling, and the author talked about how our kids don’t actually give a shit if they are being unschooled, radically unschooled, schooled in the Classical or Charlotte Mason method, or whatever.  It’s we homeschooling parents who get so caught up in labels and methods (and outside of homeschooling, this tendency to want to be committed to some label/ideology exists in parenting itself).  It’s all well and fine to follow our hearts and educate, and indeed parent, our kids in the way we feel best serves them, but when we get so caught up in labels, it tends to create a few problems:

  • It sets up a situation in which we then worry about if we’re doing it the right way;
  • It sets up a situation in which it’s easy to pass judgment on other parents who are doing it differently than we are, because obviously, they’re not doing it the right way;
  • It tends to close us off from families who do it differently, so we deprive ourselves of opportunities to see how diverse the homeschooling world is – just as it should be.

This was a revelation to me because I think I was expending a whole lot of energy trying to convert myself to a label or homeschooling ideology, and it was just creating more stress and worry for me about whether I was doing homeschooling the right way.  Guess what?  There is no right way.  This has taken a lot of pressure off of me, praise Zeus.

Another lesson that has repeatedly been reinforced for me is flexibility.  If something isn’t working, I have to be willing to make changes.  Obviously, consistency is important, but remaining committed to a particular method or program that isn’t bringing forth positive results is counterproductive.

Anyway.  So I ramped up the expectations a bit this year.  The girls and I still regularly confer about how it’s all going, and we tweak things as we go, and while things are far from perfect, I feel pretty good about what we’re doing.

Homeschooling Finn has been tough.  I pulled him out of school last January because things had become so overwhelmingly negative in first grade, and it was exacerbating his negative behaviors, negatively impacting his self-esteem, and creating a horrendous amount of stress for me.  I thought I could turn things around with him fairly swiftly with, you know, love.  That didn’t work.  I think he was a little confused and bewildered for a while after we pulled him – although he was very unhappy at school, he didn’t understand why suddenly he was no longer going to school.  He was very, very resistant to sitting down with me and doing any sort of work.  His negative behaviors didn’t lessen.  His negative behaviors mainly consist of tantrums; he is easily upset and has little ability to control his emotions, so he tends to throw tantrums at the slightest frustration or upset.  I asked the advice of other parents who homeschool kids with Ds, and was advised by many of them to just “deschool” for a while – meaning, just back completely off from anything having to do with “school” and let him decompress for a while.  I must confess that that was hard for me to do because I felt like in letting him just play all day, I wasn’t doing my job as a homeschooling parent.  But I let him be for a long time – pretty much the rest of the school year.

Now, I’m trying to have somewhat of a routine with him.  We work on the fundamentals: reading, math (and by math, I mean number recognition, counting, one-to-one correspondence), and printing.  He is still often resistant, and very distractable, so it’s difficult to keep him on task for more than a few minutes at a time.  So we work in five or ten-minute increments throughout the day.  I worry a lot, because he has lost so much ground, and I’m not even sure if I can truly help him grow and learn to his best ability, but at least I know that he’s in an environment in which he’s loved and valued and cared for, and any movement forward is progress, right?

As I said, Scarlett is right there in the fray with us.  She’s so ripe for learning, it makes my teeth hurt.  So I’m working on the fundamentals with her, too, and it’s really a joy to watch her soak it all in so enthusiastically.

I hope to get to that other post soon.  For now, peace out.

 

6

Summer Intensive

Summer break was a flurry of activity, and my head is still spinning.

Joey finished his final season of Little League, which was very bittersweet.  I am already suffering from acute nostalgia about that, knowing that Fall Ball starts up soon, and we won’t be out there in the bleachers watching him play.

Joey and Annabelle also took part in their final show (The Music Man) with the local children’s theater, which took its final bows after 34 years.  Also very bittersweet.

We kicked off birthday season:

Scarlett turned 4 in June –

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Joey turned 14 in July –

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Finn turned 8 in July –

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Michael turned 50 in August, and we have several more birthdays coming up.

Also in July, we celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.

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No words of wisdom; we’ve certainly had our ups and downs.  Several couples we’ve known for ages have split up recently, and I find myself wondering about other people’s breaking points.  We’ve come through some really, really difficult, miserable shit, and I feel like we’ve come out better and stronger, but I’m enough of a realist (and cynic) to not be all Pollyanna-ish about it.  It takes a lot to keep a marriage together, and it takes a lot to call it quits.  I’m sad for everyone who goes through a breakup, because it sucks for everyone involved, even if it’s hopefully a step in the direction of happiness.

Anyway.  We spent the first half of summer break getting the house ready to put up for sale.  That meant some repairs and improvements, lots of purging, cleaning, and packing stuff away.  That literally took a good several weeks.  We finally officially put the house up for sale early in July.  We signed the listing agreement, and one Sunday morning I left to go grocery shopping, and when I arrived back home, the For Sale sign was up in our yard, and I promptly started crying.  I wasn’t expecting it to have that effect on me, but damn.  So many memories here, and even though we want this change, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye.

The next few weeks were spent in a constant state of stress (which has not let up), while we have tried to keep the house perpetually clean (do you have any idea how impossible that is with this many people living under one roof?), and have had numerous open houses and showings.  Every time our realtor has called to say that someone wants to see the house, we spend a couple of hours madly dashing around cleaning, tidying, stowing, and then we have to get everyone out of the house for a while.

There has still been shuttling the kids to their stuff – dance, guitar lessons, horseback riding – and trying to throw in a few pool days, beach days, etc. so that the kids’ summer didn’t completely suck.

Well, it paid off, because as of last weekend, we have a buyer.  After a couple of days of negotiation, we have a contract, and it looks like we’ll be moving to Oregon in late September or early October.  Shit’s gettin’ real.

Meanwhile, the kids are almost done with their first week back at school.  Joey insisted on enrolling in high school here, even though it’s temporary, so that’s what he’s doing.  I’m homeschooling five kids now, and I’d like to tell you all about it, but I’m too fucking tired.  But I do have lots of thoughts about it.  I’m glad we’re doing it – so glad to be out of the public school hell – but homeschooling is hard, yo.

Oh, and Kevin has decided not to come with us to Oregon.  He was offered a very affordable room to rent at a friend’s house, and he was actually supposed to move out this week, but it’s been delayed a bit, but he’ll be moving out in the next few weeks and finishing school here.  He’s decided to pursue a degree in film and television, so we’ll see where that takes him.  Lots of emotions about him leaving the nest, and us leaving to be so far away from him.

And that’s all I’ve got for now.

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