Friday, September 18, 2009

First Week of School

On Facebook and on the streets, I have been hearing parents talking about how happy they are their kids are back to school. Yes, those would be the parents whose kids leave the house for school! Almost all the homeschooling moms were dreading the first week of school, because it means that vacation is over and it's time to go back to work. Of course, there was excitement, too. We all homeschool for a reason, and if we hated having our kids around and couldn't stand helping them learn, they'd be in school!

This year marks a few huge milestones for my family. It is our 10th year of homeschooling. Rachel is doing her first year of high school work. It is the first year I am homeschooling every one of my children, and of course, this means that Emma began Kindergarten. She has spent the last couple of years wanting to be one of the big kids, asking for lessons and worksheets and everything else. Since she was 3, I have given her pages to color or a craft to cut and paste, or a book to look at and called it her schoolwork, although she was never fooled. She would insist, "No, Mama, REAL schoolwork!" Unschoolers would shake their heads at my kids, who really seem to enjoy having "real" assignments.

So this week we finally took the plunge (I waited as long as I possibly could to begin the year, even though the kids asked me things like, "Aren't you BORED of summer vacation yet?" and "When is this vacation going to be over?") and started on Monday. As always, Rachel had the best of intentions and once again has decided that she cannot sleep late because she has to get her work done--I'll give this a week more, maybe as long as a month--then she'll happily decide that a huge benefit of homeschooling is making your own schedule, and we won't see her till late in the morning again. We were all up and dressed and sitting in various places by 9:30 am, something else that won't last terribly much longer, as the younger kids will realize, as Rachel does with sleep, that one of the benefits to homeschooling is that they can play games in the morning and not settle down till 11:00 for their work, unless of course we have somewhere to be in the afternoon.

All in all, everything went well. I managed my time pretty well, giving Ben assignments he can easily do on his own, such as handwriting, spelling and math, while I work one on one with Emma. Julia sits at the breakfast bar or goes into her room to her desk, close enough that she can ask questions, but separate from the others. Rachel largely works up in her room, especially now that she has her own laptop. She did watch some DVDs down in the family room, but other than that she is quite independent. After Emma was finished with book work, she would go play and I would work with Ben on things like science and social studies and the harder parts of language arts. To my very pleasant surprise, he has been doing history independently, reading and making notebook pages--as assignment which last year had to be almost spoon-fed by me. Then I call Emma back and we do some things that I can teach to both of them at the same time, such as art, music and health--makes it easier for both the planning and the execution!

After they're all done, I turn my attention to Julia, so we can work together on a few subjects--French, parts of her language arts, and math. Math is her "least favorite subject," but she has discovered that she isn't so bad at it after all. We are speeding through a text that is meant for advanced 4th graders into 5th grade (she is in 5th grade now) and she is ecstatic to see that it is all review for her. I am hoping this builds her confidence so that when we begin her "real" 5th grade text, she won't be as tense with it.

And in my copious spare time, there are all the fun household chores, trips to the library, going to the gym, errands to run, and activities to attend--plus anything I might enjoy such as reading, chatting on the phone, playing a game with the kids, watching TV or a movie with Matt etc. This week we had two separate science classes at Brookhaven National Lab, a meeting to kick off Emma's Daisy troop, an afternoon with friends--and Julia has a party to go to tomorrow as well, so we have to squeeze in getting a gift sometime in the next 20 hours.

I am beginning to wonder if I have committed us to too many activities...but of course, with four kids I don't have a whole lot of choice! What I need is a longer day, but unless I change my biological clock completely and start going to bed and getting up much earlier than I prefer, I don't see THAT happening. Anyway, one thing this school year will not be is dull. Next week Rachel is babysitting, has a library teen program and a book club meeting, we are spending Wednesday at Fire Island with friends, we have a Foreign Lands club meeting with our homeschool group...and this is in addition to everything mentioned above. Thirty five weeks till summer vacation!

Daily Quote

If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.
--Doug Larson

Friday, September 11, 2009

Potato-Zucchini Pancakes

Today we were watching a clip of Giada de Lorenzo's cooking show on Food One of the recipes was for potato-zucchini pancakes, and they looked simply delicious! They have parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, onions, garlic, and egg whites mixed in, and then cooked in a pan with some oil. Then after you're done cooking the bottom on the pan, you stick it in the oven for 15-25 minutes to let the top brown.

So we decided to make it for lunch. And it was so good! We made so much that we cooked it in 2 pans, one frying pan and one dutch oven. All the kids at them, even though they have zucchini in them, which is a hated vegetable in our house. You can hardly even taste the zucchini, and the parmesan cheese melts through the whole entire pancake. It's delectable.

Mmmmmm. Cheesy goodness.

Crispy, oily potatoes.


Sunday, September 6, 2009


We are working in the garden.

Yesterday, we used the rototiller to clear the big garden in the backyard.

Now, we're pulling roots out of the dirt.

The chickens are leaving little footprints all over the soft soil while looking for bugs.

Some of us are busy with other projects. (Like making a rock-smasher.)

Even the littlest are helping.

But just think: next spring, we'll have beautiful flowers like these.

I think it's worth it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Maybe Ben is the Next Alex P. Keaton?

Last night at dinner we were talking about our day, you know, the usual family-type conversation where Matt told us some things that happened at work, and the kids shared what they'd been up to. I mentioned that while I was walking over to the gym, I happened to look down and see an envelope lying on a neighbor's lawn--but it wasn't trash, it was an unmailed electric bill. I picked it up, and noticed that the return address was a house across the street, so I returned it to their mailbox, since nobody appeared to be home. This is the conversation that followed.

Ben: "So, what was in that envelope again?"

Me: "It was a LIPA bill--that means the bill for their electricity. I don't know how it got in the grass, but it's important that it gets mailed."

Ben: "Why?"

Matt: "You have to pay your bills on time. If you don't, they could shut off your electricity."

Ben: (thinks a minute) "And you have to pay for electricity every month?"

Me: "Every month."

Ben: "What other kinds of bills do you have to pay?"

Me and Matt, alternating: "Lots! Gas, telephone, cable, internet, insurance--life, home and car--, the mortgage, taxes, credit cards, car payment, cell phone............and then there are all the bills you pay at stores, like groceries, pet supplies, gas for the car, stuff we want at Target or Border's or a toy store, clothes for everybody and shoes....and then there's money we pay to do fun stuff like movies, field trips, museums, extracurricular activities....." (Are you getting that this could go on pretty much all night??)

Ben: (with a thoughtful look on his face) "Is this how you avoid being rich?"

......insert roars of laughter, with tears practically streaming down Matt's face.

And yes, that's pretty much how we avoid being rich!

Daily Quotes

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.

--Jerry Garcia

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Request for Treats

This is a real conversation that happened yesterday.

Emma: "Mama, when will you make Rice Kwispie Treats again?"

Me: "When we have all the ingredients in the house, I will."

Emma: "But you can just make them....."

Ben: (pacing as he talks, very serious) "Emma, to make Rice Krispie treats you need to melt butter and marshmallows together in a pan, then you stir in Rice Krispies and push it into the pan and then when it cools off you have them." (Thinks a minute) "Mom-- we have marshmallows in the pantry, I saw them. And we always have butter."

Me: "I know, but we don't have any Rice Krispies. We don't eat them very often. Next time I see them I can buy them for you."

Emma: "No! You don't understand what I'm talking about! You can just make the Rice Kwispies!"

Me: So you want me to make the cereal myself in the kitchen? Honey, I don't know how to do that. That's why we buy them already made.

Emma: (grumpy) I think you could if you really tried. Or if you Googly-ed it.

Daily Quotes

If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.

--Ignacio Estrada

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So it's September. Again. This year's difference is that I now have FOUR kids old enough to officially be homeschooling--and I say officially because as we all know, every parent out there homeschools their kids from birth until they leave the nest, even if they don't want to admit it. Anyway, the fact that Emma is officially entering the fold as far as lessons go is exciting and terrifying at once. First I have to deal with the whole "I'll never have another newborn/infant/ toddler/preschooler" issue. But then of course she has wanted to do school for several years now, and seeing her sweet face light up when she talks about being in Kindergarten and joining Daisy Girl Scouts is just adorable. But then when I am trying to organize four sets of school work, and thinking about how I'll help four kids with four sets of school work, I start going into panic mode. But then I remember that adding Ben to the homeschooling routines wasn't too bad and I settle down again. But then I think about how when Ben was added, Rachel was independent, and Julia wasn't too far from being independent, but now I'll have Ben who is less independent because the age gap between him and Emma is only 2 years, not 2.5 years and I start to panic again......

In short, I have spent this summer resolutely denying that September even exists. I have lived in the moment, enjoying all the things we've been doing, enjoying days where we do nothing too. I procrastinated viciously when it came to deciding what books to buy, in doing lesson planning and am only now completely my IHIPS (Individualized Home Instruction Plan, in case you care--which, by the way, is simply a syllabus and takes about 15 minutes to complete, most of which is lugging the books in by the computer and sorting them into subjects...) I am sticking to my guns and not starting school until the 14th--an entire week after Labor Day, despite the fact that I have seen that Arizona kids began school in July (~horrors!~) and other friends' kids went back two weeks, a week, or a day or two ago, and despite the fact that I have plenty of homeschool friends who either school year-round or started mid-August to give themselves wiggle room--I remain unpressured by the peers. So my summer is longer than just about anyone else's..and still I have insisted to myself that it will never end.

However.....despite my best intentions, September has arrived, and coincidentally, along with it has come bizarrely autumnal weather for this time of year. We had some real heat in August, even had the air conditioning on for almost two straight weeks, which we never do. Then all of a sudden the humidity evaporated, and a few days later the temperatures dropped down to a level that we generally don't see till October....barely 70* in the day time, down in the low 50s at night, sleeping with comforters, using bathrobes and slippers, the whole magilla. This change in the weather catapulted me into fall against my will--I have been browsing through catalogs and looking at Halloween decorations and wintry clothes, I have been making lists of school supplies we need, I have been mentally sorting kids' clothes into give away, save for next summer, save for another kid piles....and I have been working on my lesson plans and paperwork.

Stop it right now! I officially have twelve days of summer vacation coming to me. I don't want to think about this stuff yet. Why do I do it??

Daily Quotes

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist."

-- Maria Montessori