Friday, April 30, 2010

Taking Stock in this Texas School

So this is the week that Texas public schools have been taking stock....via the TAKS test. I know you're thinking this is just an intro for a rant on standardized testing but it isn't. (I'll give you 1 try to figure out what my take on that is, by the way....) The whole "Oh my God it's TAKS week!!!" panic that has been spreading like wildfire among my friends and acquaintances and relatives who are teachers and/or parents has seeped over to me and I'm like, "Oh my God it's TAKS week and there is nobody who has a clue or who is attempting to have a clue as to what my kids possibly know or don't know...which can't be much because holy crap LOOK AT THEM they're just sitting here playing video games and watching horrible stuff on You smart could they possibly be? Just call Child Protective Services right now and get it over with!!"
Actually, if CPS were to come by this would be a good week to do it (as long as they stay out of 2, possibly 3, rooms and as long as they don't ask jasper any questions). This week our unschool-house has been rather school-ish, if I do say so myself. And I do.

What led to this, you ask? Well, first of all - we've had NO ODYSSEY this week. Woot! This has opened up loads and loads of time. Also? Joel is going through more testing for his learning disabilities (he hasn't been tested since he was 7 and it is recommended that we have recent test results if he's going to ask for any special assistance for things like the SAT, etc) and I realized that I really need to at least get the kid somewhat familiar with structure if he really is going to try to get into college yada yada....and sometimes I just like to play school. Also also? Camille has been in the mood to play school so I wanted to jump on that while it lasted.

So. As far as school goes - we didn't participate in a co-op this year. And Ellie didn't take any dual-credit classes this semester. So basically, she hasn't been doing much but piano and studying for the SAT. She's already scored high enough on the SAT to get into every school she's interested in, but she's very competitive and wants to do better and better and she's been studying. She's also learning to crochet and has produced a variety of scarves and hats. Her little hats are perfect, her stitches are all perfect and tight and uniform and her teacher was like, "Wow! These are so uniform and perfect and.....well, wow." I'm not entirely sure she meant it as a compliment, I think she might have seen it as an indication of constipation or of something being psychologically askew but Ellie practically saluted and said, "Thank you, comrade." OK. She didn't call Lodi her comrade. But she did say thank you like a Russian would say thank you to a coach after having performed a perfect vault in the Olympics. So yeah, the kid has been perfectly crocheting. She's still on Spring Break from Spanish, but she's already way past where the average high school kid gets in Spanish...(thanks, Michi!). Biology has been on hold since her Grandpa broke his leg but he needs to get back in the teaching saddle because honestly, how long is an 81-year-old supposed to lie around whining about his broken arm and broken leg? Tough love, baby.

So Ellie is my little slacker this semester and I think it is funny. She is a "by the book" kid, though. So she's already comprised a list of what she needs to "take" in order to "graduate" next year. When I point out that she already knows a lot about World History and Economics she's like, "but I haven't TAKEN them!" So she shall take them. Through community college. And she shall learn nothing that she doesn't already know and she shall get all A's and she shall be very happy.

I made a schedule for Joel, Jules, and Camille. We say schedule like "shedule," by the way. Because we like to talk fancy. Anyway, so this week I got everyone up at 7:30 which is very early for us. We did grammar (Easy Grammar - I love it) and math. We use Teaching Textbooks for math. I have discovered that I need to sit with Joel while he does his algebra, which is a bummer. But otherwise, he misses problems and just keeps going until it snowballs into a "let's go back to THE VERY FIRST FREAKING CHAPTER and see what you don't understand, shall we?" and it is really hard for me to keep my voice pleasant when I have to say that so close to the end of the school year.

As far as history, mythology, and the classics go....the boys know everything. Everything! Every time I try to teach them something or read them something they spout off with, "I've heard of this...." and then they tell me everything I was just about to "teach" them. I'm not kidding, by the way. They know some crazy stuff. Sometimes they correct me or fill me in on the latest theory. Joel loves Greek Mythology and we are doing some Great Books work in it but it is nothing but a review for him. Where do they learn this stuff? Well, they see it on NOVA and on PBS specials and when watching the History Channel or Discovery at my Dad's (we don't have any extra channels). I'm also quite ashamed to say that listed among their sources of information are Sponge Bob and for Joel...don't judge me.....Family Guy and Southpark....I know enough to be embarrassed by this but you'd be surprised how often joel says, "Peter was talking about this with Brian and then......laugh laugh laugh....." So there you have it. But honestly, the talking dog named Brian can't do any worse with my kid than the Texas State Board of Education, right? RIGHT??

Jules pulled out his science book, recently. It is some grade-appropriate schoolish book and we made it through about 2 chapters before he said, "This is dumb. I know all of this stuff already." I didn't give up, though. Because we are doing school this week. So I said, "No way, dude. You are going to get in here and do this pointless crossword puzzle on reptiles even if it takes all day, okay?" The problem is that I said it out loud and heard myself. He'd been counting on that. I did the crossword puzzle, though. It was fun. And Jules does know way more than the little science book chapters touched on. And he learned it when it was relevant and interesting and so he'll probably retain it. Like his brother, he is a history and classics geek - can tell you the Greek or Latin root word and meaning of almost anything. Oh and btw? God help me, the kid found out about the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. He is sick over it. Talking about it. Worried about how it is going to affect the turtle population. Did I mention talking about it? Poor baby. This is one of the less fun quirks of Asperger's. Jules is having a hard time putting it in perspective...well, actually maybe he's not. It is a HUGE TRAGEDY. I guess I should say he's having a hard time living with it from his particular position, from where he can do practically nothing about it. But talk about it. And worry about the turtles and the effect the spill might have on local sushi selections. I did say he's talking about it, right? 'Cause he is.

Camille is now an independent reader! She goes everywhere with a little paperback in her hands. Nothing too advanced, but she likes having a book in her possession and that will always be a good thing. The deal in our house is that Jeff reads her junk (they love Nancy Drew) and I read her the good stuff (classics). She asked me to read her the Iliad because Jules had been telling her all of the stories. So I started to read the book we have and after each paragraph I stop and do a little recap so she knows what's happening. She knows what's happening. She's like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah....this is the part where Athene shows up as an old guy and fools Telemachus....keep reading we're getting to a good part." Also? Jules's renewed, although short-lived, interest in his science book made Camille want to do science. Now we "did" science last year in co-op with the Little Scientist series (which is great by the way). But Camille wanted a "real" book so I ordered one. It is called Read and Understand Science Grades 2-3. It came in today. She ripped it open and said, "What? I KNOW ALL THIS STUFF!!" And I looked inside and yes indeedie....she knows all that stuff. How seeds we revolve around the sun (the State of Texas hasn't denied that one yet....YET)....metamorphisis....magnets....gravity...yada, yada, yada. All I could say was, "Oooh, look! Crossword puzzles and word searches, too! Quick, what's an 8-letter word for a person who invents something?" Answer: Roll eyes and stomp off saying, "I thought this was going to be a REAL science book." I'm not sure what she wants as a second-grader....astro-physics, maybe?

Jasper, you will be thrilled to know (especially if you are tiring of reading all of this) is still my kindergarten dropout. Not interested in any of this nonsense in the slightest.

So I guess, on the surface, we look pretty much like any other school. We're a building full of know-it-all kids who way outnumber the adults, reading the occasional book with too many words and too little substance. But when you look beneath the surface, well, that's when you'll see what really matters and what makes us different. It isn't what we don't do (so we don't do a lot of textbooks, we don't take tests, we don't have set schedules...) that matters. It is what we DO do....during the quiet times and the busy times and the endless times spent waiting. Because we spend a lot of time talking, sharing, and laughing. We notice stuff. We consider stuff. We argue about stuff. We have goals, we have dreams, and we have TIME. We have time to really investigate the things that interest us. We have time to figure out what it is we want to do (or not do). We have time to experience the outdoors on beautiful days instead of being stuck in a classroom. In short, we have time to be together.

If that was all we got out of homeschooling....time to be would be enough to justify it all for me. Most of the time, anyway. Because sometimes? That yellow bus presents me with a mighty fine temptation.

Signing Off as Headmistress Sardine Mama

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shall We Get Reaquainted? I Think We Shall!

It has been a while since my last post. In fact, I think this is the longest I've ever gone without posting. So now it is kind of like calling a friend you really haven't talked to in a long time....too much to say in a short conversation and no time to have a longer one.

Don't let that scare you, though. I have decided on a recap rather than the intricately detailed and somewhat painful sagas to which you've become accustomed.

I'm actually going to do a bullet list. A bullet list! So truly, this is not going to be a novella or anything like that. Just a list of 10 things that have happened or that I'm thinking about. I shall spare you my contemplations about why I've been feeling so blah lately - about how I get to the end of the day (every day) and look around and realize I haven't accomplished anything. I could write about how I'm currently feeling very overwhelmed by the house, the laundry, the garden, the yard, and the lack of time to do some homeschooling activities the way I'd like to do them. I could go on about how I feel that everyone else's needs and desires come before my own, or about how I sometimes feel as if there is no "me" left. About how the little ones won't stop talking to me and making me the center of their relative universes and the older ones are talking less and creating their own universes that definitely do NOT revolve around me and about how the middle kid is such a stereotypical middle kid that I don't even know where his universe is, sometimes. But that would be a downer.

Instead I will get on with the bullet list. I bet I scared you there for awhile, didn't I?

1. EASTER. We did it. Sorta. We hunted eggs and then we went over to my dad's for Passover (even though Passover was technically over - we obviously don't pay attention to a lot of rules and bylaws of holidays). Jules is on the left, Joel is flirting with a garden gnome, Camille is being her wiggly jiggly giggly self, Ellie is trying to remain composed among the general mayhem, and the guy on the right is not Angus Young - just Jasper's version of "dressed up".

2. WYSONG JOPLIN PIANO COMPETITION. Went to McKinney, Texas (just north of Dallas)for it. Ellie won it. She won $1,000.00 to be specific. It was a lovely competition....they treat the finalists like royalty with a reception and recitals and food and other comforts. Ellie even had a "patron" whose gorgeous home served as a practice facility and calm and peaceful place of preparation. The judge is the head of the piano department at Eastman School of Music, one of the schools Ellie is interested in. So it was a good weekend and we had some awesome mother/daughter time. Stayed at a Hilton Garden in Allen and enjoyed service beyond belief.

3. ODYSSEY OF THE MIND STATE TOURNAMENT. We went to Houston for it. The high school team I coached came in 1st place AND won a Ranatra Fusca for extreme creativity. Now they will advance to the World Finals in Michigan. Super exciting and awesome. The middle school team placed 4th and had a great time. We stayed at a Hilton Garden and were treated like crap. This would require an entire post to itself and I am SO RESISTING THE URGE TO DO IT RIGHT HERE AND NOW UNTIL YOUR EYES GLAZE OVER.

This is the high school team.

This is the middle school team. I asked 9 Texans if she got any pics where they didn't all look like Children of the Corn and she said, "got nothin' but ax murderers in my pics...." I think they were trying to look logical or something (Jules plays Mr. Spock)....or maybe they are all going to come and kill me in my sleep. Hard to tell. 4. PROM. Ellie went. With her friend, Cody, who is one of Grilled Cheese Chick's shaggy boys (not pictured above - duh), and Katie, who is 9 Texan's kid and is pictured above. The girls are beautiful! She had a great time. Yes, she is homeschooled and yes, there is a homeschool prom, put on by a Christian homeschool cooperative. They invite all homeschooled 11th and 12th graders, even if they're not members of the cooperative (we're not)or they're not Christian (we're not). That makes them lovely people and I should really write a note to someone telling them how grateful I am that they go to all this trouble every year to provide all these kids with a truly exceptional prom experience. The theme was Phantom of the Opera and the location was a pretty ritzy country club. It included a really nice buffet where they wasted a ton of shrimp on unappreciative non-shrimp eaters such as my vegetarian kid and her vegetarian date. They had the organ playing the Phantom Theme and spectacular decorations.

5. I am EXHAUSTED and there will be nooooo break for for another few weeks. And instead of Odyssey being over....I will be preparing for the humongous drive from Texas to Michigan with 6 teenagers and a u-haul full of their stuff. The World Tournament is an experience of a lifetime, though. Joel has never been and he is thrilled beyond words. Ellie's been twice, but she is thrilled for Joel. She says it will be fun because it will be like doing it for the first time (through Joel's eyes). I'm going to miss Camille's ballet demonstration while I'm in Michigan and my heart is broken into a zillion pieces over this. Jeff is just hoping he can figure out how to get her hair in a bun.

6. Some guy offered us $400 if we let him harvest our wildflower seeds from our front pasture. He says it will not reduce our wildflower show next spring - hope he's right.

7. I'm rooting for Casey on American Idol.

8. I'm tired of facebook status updates being about Obama and people praying for his death. I'm not going into it but Cheesy did and you can read it on her blog.

9. I started working out again and it felt really great and then I quit and now I don't want to start up because it has been long enough that it will feel like starting over. I have to do something soon or my breasts are going to require their own zip code.

10. There are lots of reasons why I homeschool and the state of Texas has recently given me more. You can read them HERE. Sometimes I'm amused by the craziness of Texas, and sometimes a tad bit proud of its continuing quest to be the wackiest state in the union (or out of the union since some of us want to secede and some of us think we never really joined up).
But sometimes? I'm just embarrassed.
Signing Off as a Pooped Sardine Mama

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Birthdays and Bluebonnets

The consensus on the census is that it is poorly worded. And racially inadequate. And in my case, rather anticlimactic at the end. Because at the end, it just provided places for names and birthdays....none of the racial questions or such they were saying, "Sorry - we just don't care, anymore." Which is so sad because isn't that how it goes for these "last kids?" You know, they're the ones who get by without baby books, huge birthday parties, hand sewn Halloween costumes, and baby swimming lessons because Mom says, "That stuff was all rather silly and time-consuming, now wasn't it?" And then you fill out the census and by the time you get to the 5th kid it says, "All those other questions were rather silly and time-consuming.....just jot down the name real quick...there now....good enough!"

But WHAT IF my last child was fathered by a Native American or an Irish Samoan or a Hispanic Norwegian or combination thereof? Ha! Now I guess you'll never know, will you Census People? That's right, I'm sticking it to the man. Possibly. I'll never tell.

Now then - for your viewing pleasure - I'd like to present pics from our front pasture. Enjoy our Texas Wildflowers....wish you could smell them. Our fields are mostly Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets (state flower). And the best part? Is that pretty much all the fields around us look the same way or more spectacular. When we're driving along the country roads we take to get to various lessons and activities....we can tell by the brake lights of the car up ahead that we might be coming to a particularly lovely spot. Some of the fields literally take your breath away! Our field ranks up there (people are taking pics out here every day) but it definitely isn't the prettiest we've seen.

Now onto Stage 2 of the post (stage 3 if you count the census nonsense at the beginning). Jasper turned 6 on Tuesday!! And I was prepared for the usual gang-o-kids to come over and grind cupcakes into the one area rug I own. But then Jasper surprised me by saying he'd rather go out to eat.

Because I already feel badly that his parties do, in fact, pretty much consist of little boys grinding cupcakes instead of the humongous orchestrated themed things his siblings enjoyed, I was like, "Are you sure? I don't mind. Really. It will be fun!!!" And inside I was secretly relieved because Monday is the Day That Everyone Comes Over because Ellie teaches piano all morning and then all the Odyssey teams are here for the rest of the day and Tuesdays are kind of my recovery days.

But Jasper assured me by saying, "My friends annoy me!! Why would I want them here on my birthday?"

It is hard to argue with that. And Jasper is easily annoyed. He pretty much wants to sit on the ground and play with his Legos or stuffed animals in peace. He does have a couple of really cute little guys who like to hang with him, and he does consider them his friends, but like Ellie, he really doesn't feel the need to be plastered to anybody socially. He's a loner, pure and simple.

His little friend, Ben, is the kid he likes the most. He's also the kid who irritates him the most. In Jasper's defense, Ben's typical facial expression is identical to Jack Nicholson's when he bursts through the bathroom door with an ax in The Shining. In Ben's defense, it is extremely entertaining to watch Jasper when he's irritated.

Jeff took the afternoon off of work and we headed to the San Antonio Riverwalk to celebrate Jasper's birthday. By the way - check out how peaceful this tourist attraction is. Yeah Baby! One more thing to love about homeschooling! The Riverwalk on a Tuesday afternoon before school has let out and the tourist season has begun.....nice. Nobody got knocked into the river by a guayabera-wearing man wielding a light-up margarita bong. That would have annoyed / irritated the holy bejeezus out of Jasper, believe me.

Finally, here is the Birthday Boy Himself at the Rainforest Cafe, home of the world's most expensive microwavable food....where you can order the exact same convenience food you currently have sitting in your own freezer and pay out the a$$ for it because of the dancing gorilla behind you. We don't do stuff like this very often - but Jasper had like the best day of his life so yeah....thanks for the frozen pizza, Rainforest Cafe! Sorry we only ordered water, by the way. Really. I. Am. Because I would have enjoyed a $15 watered-down wine margarita.

So The Baby is six. But he is definitely still The Baby. And I sincerely worry for his future partner....if he chooses to accept one. To her I'd like to say, "I did the best I could. Mostly, anyway. Because I got pretty tired there near the end. Just do what he says and nobody should get hurt....Also? He might be half Korean Puerto Rican."
Signing off as Jasper's Sardine Mama.....Always