Thursday, September 30, 2010

this 'n that

I started a post last week, and part of it was a whole paragraph devoted to a glowing review of homeschooling, so I can't post that tonight, because my daughter informed me this afternoon that she doesn't learn anything in school.  Now, I will say, she said the same thing last year when she was in regular school (and, I think, the year before), so of course she is not a credible source, but still,
I'll admit,
I flipped out a bit.
SERIOUSLY???????  Not learning?
What, exactly, does she think we do from 9:00 - 3:30 or so every flippin' day???? 
When she asks to read yet another chapter of a book to me, is that not learning?
When she explains to Matt at the dinner table how our food is digested or how our nerves deliver messages to our brain or how our nose blocks germs or about her vibrating voice box has she really learned nothing? 
When she recognizes the Greek gods and goddesses when they come up in a TV show, has she not been learning?
When she has memorized twelve Bible verses in the past 8 weeks, is that not learning?
When she can whip the fact families out of her brain, is that not learning?
When she can name the 7 continents and 4 oceans without even blinking, is that not learning?

I'll admit it.  I kinda...sorta...lost it a bit.  I didn't yell or scream or throw things (although inside that is precisely what I was doing), but I did suggest that, if she didn't think she was learning, she could most certainly attend the lovely school down the street, and then I would spend my day doing other things.
"Like what?" she asked, incredulously.
Like what?
Well, I could catch up on laundry.  I could reinvent the friendships that somehow dissipated in the past few months.  I could take on more doula clients.  I could write.  I could read.  I could clean my house.  I could sit down with a quiet and solitary cup of coffee in the afternoon.  I could go back to baking bread. 

I'm not trying to be a martyr here.  I love homeschooling her.  I do.  I love the bond we now have.  I love the lovely people who have floated into my life since we started homeschooling.  I love the depth and breadth and realness of the new friends I have made.  I love learning with her. 
But today, I was ready to chuck it all. 

Tonight, I'm still frustrated, but I'm clinging to the hope that tomorrow will be a better day. client will go into labor and we will have the day off.  :)
No, seriously...
(well, seriously, that's precisely what I am thinking)
But seriously...
it's temporary.  This semester has been, overall, great.  I can't BELIEVE how much she is learning, despite the fact that she thinks otherwise.

In fact, maybe I should be happy she said that.  Honestly, it's doesn't "feel" like she is learning when she is reading to me a book about a family headed out to California during the Gold Rush.  It doesn't "feel" like she is learning when we are reading about the people of Guinea Bissau.  It doesn't "feel" like we are learning when we play math games with M&M's and Fruit Loops. 
But she is learning.
I am learning.
And it's all going to be OK.
Tomorrow is a new day, with a fresh slate...the promise of sunshine...and a mama who is at 4cm and is going to go into labor any second (please, please, please, please, please).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Schleich--TOS Homeschool Review

While I love any day that a package of homeschooling materials to review comes in the mail, I must admit that it was a particularly joyous day in our household when I opened up a box of items to review that contained TOYS!!!  It was like Christmas had arrived at our household...only the mail carrier was the deliverer of the coveted goods rather than Santa and the temperature topped 90 degrees rather than bottoming out below freezing. 

The reason for our glee was a box of animal figures from the German manufacturer Schleich.  Schleich is a company that produces over 500 quality, realistic figurines that spark a child's imagination and provide hours of creative play.  According to the introductory letter I received from the company in the mail, "The 'Schleich way to play' offers an ideal bridge from early learning books to creative play without the need for explanation or instructions.  All our toys are natural and accurate copies of the animals, people, historical periods, and fantasy worlds they represent.  Each toy mould is precision engineered by a German master craftsman who works on the finest details for up to six weeks.  After finishing, the figurines are all painted by hand--meaning each toy is absolutely unique.  Most importantly, they are durable and safe while exceeding global safety standards." 

As you can infer from the above paragraph, the quality of Schleich toys is outstanding.  We have many animal toys in our household, but none of these even begins to compare with the realistic, quality figures that we received from this company.  My two children noticed the difference, too.  Instead of clopping their plastic figurines through a plastic barnyard, my kids were suddenly transported to the jungle with these toys, and they were growling and pounding their way through the brush and trees that had apparently suddenly sprung up on my living room floor.  My three-year-old son especially enjoys integrating these animals into his imaginative play. 

My only potential concern with this product is the price.  These toys, while not outrageously expensive, are more pricey than most toy animals.  As you can see here, they range in price from about $7.00 to almost $100.00.  However, I must say that after having these toys in my home, I would most certainly recommend paying the extra few dollars for toys that are this well-crafted. 

If you would like to try these toys out for yourself (or your kids!), you can find them in the Kansas City area at speciality toy shops like Zoom and Arsa Toys, and they are also available at Target and Toys "R" Us.  You should certainly check them out! 

Some of my fellow Crew members have also been playing with Schleich toys! If you want to see their reviews, you can do so here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Salem Ridge Press--TOS Review

A few weeks ago we received the book Soldier Fritz and the Enemies He Fought in the mail  from Salem Ridge Press.  We also received two e-books, Mary Jane--Her Visit  and The American Twins of the Revolution just to give us a better taste of the types of books that this company has to offer.    

Salem Ridge Press was founded in 2005 to offer reprints of quality, previously published children's books from the 1800's and early 1900's.  Following the Charlotte Mason principle of learning through "living books" rather than textbooks, this company offers books that make history come alive for the young readers who quickly become engrossed in the stories these authors weave. 

The stories that I read to my daughter from this company actually reminded me of the books I read when I was a child.  I honestly can't say that I remember one detail from a history class, but I could retell countless tales of the history I learned as I read and re-read stories of people who lived in a different time and place.  Similarly, I quickly became engrossed in the stories we received.  I must confess that I cheated and read ahead a bit because our daily reading time wasn't going quite fast enough, and I wanted to know what was going to happen in the lives of the children in whom I had become so quickly invested. 

One thing that I really appreciated about these books is that they tell a compelling, well-written story in a way that appeals to young (and old) listeners and readers.  My daughter was especially engrossed in the story of Sally and Roger, the twins whose story of living through The Revolution is captivatingly and descriptively told.  I watched Amélie include bits of their story in her pretend play, and I was reminded of my own youth and the hours I spent pretending I was helping slaves escape on the Underground Railroad or attending Queen Elizabeth as a lady-in-waiting.  I love it that I see that same creativity and love for history in my own daughter.  

As their website notes, the founders of Salem Ridge Press believe, as I do, that introducing quality literature to our children helps them excel in writing, vocabulary, history, geography, and science.  This belief is one of the main reasons I made the radical leap of pulling Amélie out of public school and teaching her at home.  History is a living, breathing guest in our home, and I wouldn't trade the creativity or the love for learning she has gifted our family with for anything...even that well-coveted solitary cup of coffee in the afternoon.  :)   

Another perk of Salem Ridge Press is the clarity and organization of their website.  I found it very easy to maneuver through the site and find books not only alphabetically, but also by time period and location, author, and age range.  This organization is especially helpful for parents trying to find books that might pique interest in a fledgling reader or that might supplement the study of a particular historical time period.  You can also find listings by New Releases, Historical Fiction, Adventure, Allegory, and Younger Readers.

While I appreciate the fact that I can buy these books for my kids and not have to worry about my kids reading anything questionable, I take issue with their editing of passages that include any sort of physical affection.  I think it is important for my children to understand the importance of expressing love in a physical way, and while I wouldn't want them to be reading what goes on behind a bedroom door, I want them to read about couples who have healthy, physical relationships.  I believe this exposure will help my kids as they try to maneuver the tricky waters of relationships with the opposite sex.  Besides, if they never read about any other adults in books kissing or hugging one another, they will come to the totally errant conclusion that their parents are just plain weird.  :) 

I do, however, think that these books could be a valuable supplement to any parents' library, and since they are priced fairly reasonably from $10.95 - $24.95, many families could probably afford to choose some favorites to purchase and to enjoy again and again. 

Some of my fellow Crew members also received books from this company. If you want to see their reviews, you can do so here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Monday, September 20, 2010

faking it

That got your attention, didn't it? 
What might I be faking?
It is nothing scandalous. 
No, nothing of the sort. 
Want to know what I am faking? 
I am faking being busy so that no one will talk to me.  I am trying to buy 5 minutes of quiet. 
So far, these past 30 seconds have been a complete failure.
Do your kids talk to you non-stop?  Mine do.  And I love their chatter.  But at this time of day, which is now 4:39 p.m., I have used up all of my listening skills, my patience, and my words.  I actually enjoy sitting here (I am getting a brief reprieve) and not feeling my tongue moving in my mouth.  That is weird, isn't it?  But true, oh so true. 
I just don't have any more creative ideas, empathic responses, or attentive listening left in me.  I am done.  Finished.

I just had to referee an argument.  Jack wants to play with Amélie's Barbies.  Amélie doesn't want him to.  He technically isn't playing with her Barbies.  He is actually playing with his Spiderman in her Barbie house.  Same difference.  "He's going to make a MESS of my room!!!!!  He RUINS things!  He LOSES things!  This is HORRIBLE!!!"  Insert appropriately dramatic hand gestures and vocal inflections.

I am done with drama for the day.

Actually, I have more to say than to whine and complain.  :)  I really do. 
It is now September 20th, and I never announced what my September project would be in my Year of Mindfulness.  I didn't announce it because it quickly became an epic FAIL and I decided to hold off a month.  This month's mindfulness project was supposed to be mindful eating. 
I am HORRIBLE at eating mindfully.
I eat too fast, b/c I never know when I am going to be interrupted or called up on to intervene in a catastrophe of epic proportions.
I often have no clue what I am eating, because sometimes I commit the cardinal rule of eating at the table and reading and only pretending to listen to the conversation floating around me or the food I am inserting into my mouth.
I often eat when I am stressed, because eating spoonfuls of peanut butter, tablespoonfuls of Nutella, or chunks of sharp cheddar cheese is a quicker fix than closing my eyes and taking deep breaths.
I often eat when I am tired, because I think it is going to give me energy, and while eating for energy is true on a certain level, eating more will not compensate for the lack of energy I feel from lack of sleep.
And sometimes, I don't pay attention to what I am eating because I am living in my own little world in my own little head, and what is going on in the "real" world, including the motion of fork to mouth, is automatic rather than intentional.
So, October will be my month of Mindful Eating.  If you would like to join me on my quest, both for encouragement and to stay accountable, please let me know!  The more the merrier. 
I'm just thinking that it's a good thing Halloween is at the END of the month and not the beginning.  :)

I think I got about two minutes of quiet in there.  That's a start.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PyraMath Review

Until this year, my daughter has not been a huge fan of math. When she was in public school she was bombarded with worksheet...after worksheet...after worksheet, and she hated it. When I flipped through her papers at night and saw worksheet...after worksheet...after worksheet, I wasn’t too thrilled either. Last year we tried a math program that we liked just fine, but then this year we had the opportunity of exploring math with a very talented, very creative teacher who meets with Amélie once a week to teach her new concepts, and then I spend the rest of the week reinforcing that concept. She hasn’t done a worksheet since (although she has extensively danced, played games, drawn, worked with 10-frames and manipulatives, etc.).

When I received my PyraMath cards in the mail, I was excited. Amélie loves card games, and I do, too, even though I have a competitive daughter who somehow squirms her way into winning most games. According to the booklet that is included with the card game, “over 60% of all schoolchildren have ‘turned off’ to mathematics by the 4th grade.” 60%. That’s a lot of kids. Based on Amélie’s classroom experience, I firmly believe that she was quickly falling into that 60% category.

The principle behind PyraMath is that it helps kids learn their math facts...but it does so in a fun way. When we are playing with the PyraMath cards, Amélie truly forgets that we are doing “school,” and she just enjoys the time spent playing the game (and learning without realizing she is learning). :)

The PyraMath cards are very reasonably priced at $6.95 per deck, and you can purchase the cards here.  The cards come with a booklet explaining how to play the game. According to the PyraMath website,, “PyraMath is a one or two player game that uses math and language skills. The objective of the game is to complete a pyramid with your cards by using fundamental mathematics.” Right now, Amélie and I use addition and subtraction to complete our pyramids, but as she learns multiplication and division, we will be able to incorporate those skills into the game as well.

We love our PyraMath cards.  If you have a struggling math learner...or just a kid who likes to play card games...I would most certainly recommend these cards.  If you try them out, let me know what you think!

Some of my fellow Crew members have also used this program. If you want to see their reviews and see how the cards worked for them, you can do so here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Monday, September 13, 2010

a litany (as in, "a tedious repetitive series," not as in "a series of petitions for use in church services or processions")

I can't believe it has been over a week since I posted last.  What, exactly, is happening to my weeks, my time, my life?  Wow. 
Last week wasn't easy.  I have this crazy drive to do everything WELL (as my mother-in-law ever-so-gently reminded me today), but while that trait seems noble and good, it definitely has its, for example, the fact that I live in a state of feeling constantly overwhelmed, out of control, and incompetent.  I could go on.  It's rather annoying. 

Anyway, we are in our 6th week into homeschooling, and it's really going well.  It really is.  Amélie is learning like a little sponge, and it's such a joy to teach her (usually).  She loves history and science and reading, and she is even enjoying math this year, thanks to the absence of worksheets and the introduction of math as facilitated by a wonderful and brilliant friend (who also happened to teach 2nd grade before adopting two Down Syndrome babies).  However, our curriculum is very labor-intensive, and I feel like I have to do it all and do it right.  I (like many homeschooling parents, I think) am so worried that Amélie is going to get behind or something.  The last thing I want to do is make her stupid, you know?  :)  I'm pretty sure that's not happening, but just in case, I make sure we do everything.  And some days.........that's just hard. 

Plus, I have a little boy who feels a little left out sometimes, I think, and I don't have the time or energy for him that I think I should have.

Plus, I have a little girl who also wants me to play with her, not just teach her.

Plus, I have a husband with whom I like to spend time that involves both quality and quantity.

Plus, I'm a doula, and I love my clients and look forward to meeting with them and then assisting them in birth.

Plus, I have a house to keep halfway clean and organized.

Plus, I am reviewing homeschooling materials.

Plus, I have laundry.

Plus, I cook.

Plus, I need to exercise.

Plus, I like to write.

Plus, I like to see my friends.

Plus, if I don't get enough sleep I get cranky (this blog entry is a case in point).

Plus, I need to spend some time ALONE.

You know what I need?
I need a doula.
a life doula.

and a hug.  I could use one of those today, too.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Last week, I had a sinus infection.  That virus invaded my body and wiped me out.  I didn't feel good.  I had no energy.  I felt like I was moving and thinking in a mire of sludge.  It wasn't fun.

I have this other virus, though, that just doesn't go away.  I can't take a pill for it.  I can't keep it at bay by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water.  It's an ugly virus.  It's a chronic one.  It sucks the life right out of me.

It goes by several different names: discontent, jealously, envy, and a myriad of other synonyms and symptoms. 

Some days, I wish I had a different house, a bigger one with a large backyard, a jacuzzi tub big enough to fit the whole family, and enough space that all of us could have a room of our own.

Some days, I wish I had a nicer car, one that wasn't beige and normally driven by people twice my age.

Some days, I wish I could go to the grocery store without calculating the items I am putting in my cart against the reality of our budget.  And I wish I could buy every book I wanted.  And I wish I could update my wardrobe and my house and.........................

Some days, I wish I had a sexier job.  I love my jobs as mom, homeschool teacher, and doula, but there's nothing particularly sexy about changing a diaper, giving a spelling test, or being regularly splashed with amniotic fluid (although, oddly, I don't really mind any of those things too much, now that I really think about it). 

Some days (actually, every day), I wish I were sexier.  Thankfully, I have a husband who has the polar opposite version of the body dysmorphic disorder that I have, and he actually likes how I look.  I, on the other hand, spend a lot of time cringing at my body and wishing it were a whole lot different. 


But then there are days like today, when all of those discontents seem so minor. 

This afternoon, I was sitting on the floor reading the newspaper when someone rang our doorbell.  I tend to panic when the doorbell rings (partly due to the fact that my house never lives up to the immaculate standards I set in my mind, and partly due to the fact that I am an introvert who loves people coming over but who still, for whatever reason, abhors the doorbell).  Thankfully, Matt has no such odd aversion and quickly answered the door.  A man was at the door with his daughter.  The kids and Matt had met this family a couple of weeks ago when they were out bike-riding.  They are new to the neighborhood.  They are living with the girl's grandma right now.  Apparently they came home one day, and their landlord had changed the locks and thrown every last one of their belongings out onto their lawn.  S asked Amélie if she could play.  Immediately, I  panicked a little.  I don't really know this family.  Was I going to let my daughter walk down the street and into the house of a family whom I had never met?  What was I going to do?  I didn't have to worry or think about this situation long, however, because by the time I got to the door the dad was gone.  S was to play at our house with Amélie. 

Oh!  What a relief, really.

She's a sweet little girl.  She is eight.  While making her and Amélie a snack I checked on her food allergy situation (you never know these days--I didn't want to kill the poor child), and she informed me that the only thing she is allergic to is pie.  It makes her throw up, apparently.  Good to know.  She also has four brothers and three sisters.  I am not sure how many of them are living in that little house on the corner with her grandma.  I do know that one of those brothers is allergic to shellfish.  His tongue swells up, and the allergy could kill him.  Another of her older brothers punched her in the mouth one time and knocked out eight of her teeth.  Those teeth are coming back in now, so it must have been awhile ago.  That older brother is ten now.  As soon as they get money from their landlord for treating them so badly they are going to be "crazy rich."  Her eyes lit up when she told me that. 

The things you find out just by asking.  And listening.

Here's the point of this story, the point that still, as I sit here and type this, makes me cry.

Amelie sneaked out of her bedroom later and whispered to Matt and me,

"I would like to have S over for a sleepover sometime.  She has to sleep on her bathroom floor."

Her bathroom floor


How heart-breaking. I just want to go hug her. I just want to ask her to move in.

Later, Amélie followed me into the bathroom and told me that she thinks we should buy her some clothes and toys, because she doesn't have very many.

Suddenly, I saw things differently.  Suddenly, I saw all that I have.  I have enough.  I have too much.  I have enough to give.  And keep giving. 

Some things are more important than granite countertops and trendy cars and sexy jobs and tight bodies. 

My soul needs some work, apparently.
My soul needs people like S to remind me to love. 
   and to give.
          and to be content.
                 and to love and to give some more. 

Jesus appeared to me today.  She had on pink shorts, a pink t-shirt, and had the cutest lisp.

Thanks, S. 
Thanks for reminding me what's important, what's essential, what's eternal.