Saturday, January 29, 2011

Our School Year: Take 2

We've had a big shift in our schooling scenario, so I should probably bring you all up to speed on what's going on here in the mire.

The day has finally come that I NEVER thought I would see (and frankly, hoped not to see).  All of my children (Ivy excepted) are in public school.  It makes me both sick and excited at the same time.

First, Violet is in the same preschool she has been in all year - no change there.  It is the local school district preschool, meets once a week, and is very fun and low key and play-based.  She enjoys going and I like her teachers - two thumbs up.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Next, Henry has been withdrawn from our local school and has been enrolled in a free public virtual school.  I didn't really like Henry's kindergarten class from day 1, but at first he was having a good time and so that was good enough for me.  At five years old, I'm not too concerned about academics, I just want him to have fun learning.  But as the year went on, the newness wore off, and the schoolwork was continually not very challenging, Henry began to loathe going.  And as a person who never liked the school to begin with, I had a very hard time forcing him to go.  I can put the smack down and be firm with my kids when it is something I believe in, but forcing him to go to a boring school every day just for the sake of attendance really rubbed me the wrong way.  So I let him stay home.  Often.  That was kind of our compromise.  He didn't have to go every day, but he did have to go fairly regularly.  It worked for us until January when the principal threatened to turn me in for educational neglect.  I just cracked up over that one!  He had finished the end of the year objectives a couple of months into the school year and wasn't learning anything new most days and I'M the one who is neglecting his education?  She informed me that he had missed approximately 40% of the school days so far and she was concerned that it was detrimental to his education.  I informed HER that if he can miss 40% of the classes and still master all of the work then there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with how they are running that class.  And I withdrew him.

My hubby is pretty pro-public-school so my compromise with him was that I enrolled Henry in an online virtual public school.

I have heard from many homeschoolers that they really don't like the virtual schools because they aren't very flexible and many people just end up dropping out and homeschooling instead.  Fair enough.  But for us, I think it is the right choice for the rest of this year.  It keeps peace between me and hubby, makes my homeschooling job easier since the lessons are all planned out for me and the supplies are provided, and Henry will be able to work through the coursework as fast as he likes.  No waiting for the rest of the class to "get it" before moving on.  So for now, I think it will work - I'll keep you updated on that one.

Lastly, Mitchell is enrolled in a big fat brick-and-mortar public school (NOT the same school we took Henry out of).  Complete with bells, cafeteria, desks, and a crabby school secretary.  That is a decision I was very torn over.  In a lot of ways, it felt like giving up on him.  I feel like I could have kept homeschooling him, and we could have been successful academically, but the cost to our family dynamic and our relationship troubled me.  In the end we decided to give it a try and just see how it went.  He's been there for two weeks now and so far so good.  The teacher and principal both have been very responsive and seem to be more than willing to try to make the experience a good one for him.  It is a special school-within-a-school program so it has more of the small school feel that we are used to from our former private school.  They also incorporate skill groups and multi-age classrooms to both make sure that kids are getting work at their particular skill level and also to develop a sense of community among all the classes.   For him particularly I also think that the structure will be good.  It is something that is highly recommended for kids with ADHD and something I have absolutely no talent for. I feel like this is something I can live with, at least for now, and it seems like Mitchell can too.

I have no idea where any of the kids will be for school come September, but it feels good to be in a place where it seems like everyone fits.

Friday, January 28, 2011

And... Action!

Today we tried to complete part #2 of the Deep Space Sparkle Winter Trees art project, and thankfully it went much much better than part #1.  It might seem a little crazy to even consider continuing on after our last art debacle, but I figured if we can survive shaving cream without anyone getting strangled, Cray-pas should be no problem.  Turns out I was right. 

To increase our chances of success, we started while the baby was taking one of her rare loooong afternoon naps.  VERY helpful.  But now before I get too far, let me tell you that we did not in fact complete the winter trees.  All those swirly papers are still unadorned.  But something much much better happened.

In an effort to be a little more creative, instead of just saying, "Let's make trees", I asked them what the designs reminded them of.  Violet said swirls (obvious, but no less true), and Henry said wind or waves.  I rolled with the waves thing and showed him how we could make draw fish on construction paper and cut them out to add them to the picture.  He loved it and made a fish of his own, but he couldn't bear to glue them on to the paper.  They were too fun to play with.

Then he had a light-bulb moment. 

"Hey Mom, what we really need is some sticks!  Then it could be a puppet!"

What followed took up our entire afternoon and the swirly papers were forgotten.  I gotta tell you, making stick/paper/Cray-pas puppets is VERY gratifying.  You can get a kick-ass looking puppet made in about five minutes.  So you can imagine the volume of characters and whatnot we were able to make in an afternoon.  I made a bunch myself too because it was just way too fun not to join in.

After we were done creating, they spent a good long while developing a story and practicing it and just having fun.

After dinner Henry and Violet put on their show for the rest of us and I grabbed the video camera and was able to capture a moment (actually about eleven moments) that pretty much summed up all the children's personalities in a nutshell.  There was little plot, but tons of personality, just the way I like it :-)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


This week Henry has been showing a sustained interest (read as: asking about it multiple days in a row) in whales.  It started with a picture of mine that I unearthed from one of our moving boxes of a whales tail at sunset.  He was wondering what it was and I told him.  Then he started carrying around the plastic blue whale from our bath toy bin and asking a lot of questions about whales and the ocean as we drove around dropping off Mitch at school and picking him up (Mitch and school is a whole other post I will share later).  Yesterday he was asking a lot of good questions about blue whales.  I knew that blue whales were the biggest animal on earth, but that was about as much as I could tell him.  Most of his other questions I just had to say, "Hmmm.... I'm not sure, that's something we should look up."  So today we started looking them up.  I stumbled upon a fantastic interactive page on the National Geographic website that tells all about blue whales and compares their length and weight to all kinds of fun things like a space shuttle, a T-Rex, and a tank.  We also watched an animation of how whales feed.  There is a lot of fun information on the site and we didn't get to it all so hopefully we will be back another day to learn more (or if he doesn't want to, I'll go on there myself, it's a VERY cool site).

Here are some of my favorite things we learned today:

*A blue whale's heart is about the size of a Mini Cooper!  And if you are particularly agile, it's major arteries are big enough for a person to crawl through.

*A blue whale weighs about the same as 2,660 people.  About 100 people can fit in its mouth.  We had fun talking about who we would have to throw on the scale to reach 2,660 - our church, all our friends, all our family members, his class, Violet's class, Mitchell's class, and still we wouldn't be able to tip the scale our way!

When we were at the Science Museum last we needed to take a little break for Ivy to nurse and then crawl around a bit and found a lovely little book nook to rest in.  While we were resting we read one of the books they had out called "How Whales Walked Into The Sea".  A VERY interesting book that I highly recommend and one that I'm thinking we need to add to our personal collection because I really want to reread it.  Did you know that whales were land animals first?  I didn't until I read that book to Henry.  He and I were both pretty awed.  The natural world is just FULL of truly amazing stuff. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

So this is our first winter in a rural area.  I'm a suburban mama born and bred, but we've made the big move out to the country.  The winter has been just gorgeous.  Snow covered trees, lots of animal tracks in the freshly fallen snow.  But today I encountered something I hadn't anticipated.  As I was driving down the road, I saw a deer heading into a cornfield.  Awww, how cute, how majestic, I love wildlife sightings.

But then... he DIDN'T head into the cornfield.  Didn't move at all in fact.  After a closer inspection I found that this wasn't a real live deer after all.  It wasn't plastic either.
Everyone has heard of the hick sport of cow tipping, loved by hillbillies everywhere.  'Round here though, in Minnesota, where it gets to 20 degrees below zero, we have a winter time version of this sport too.  

It's called roadkill righting.

Yup, that's a dead deer.  Frozen solid and propped up in the snow.  Classy Isanti, classy.

What's Cooking Mama?

A few months ago we went to the Science Museum of Minnesota and had our first interaction with "The Collector's Corner".  For those of you who have never heard of this, it is an area of the museum where they will issue your children points for bringing in various interesting nature specimens.  With these points they can buy other nature items like shells, crystals, dried bat wings, and all kinds of other stuff that children treasure.  The rules are, you can't bring in anything stinky, sticky, or from a bird (too many protected species).  I knew this because I had spotted it on other trips to the SMM, but this was the first time we brought anything in.

The kids brought in some pieces of a wasp's nest that the kids found when our fix-it guy pulled down the ceiling of the porch.  In exchange, Violet got to bring home a geode, Henry got a large bumblebee pinned to a piece of styrofoam, and Mitchell decided to save his points for something bigger and better next time.

Points are awarded based on a couple of factors.  First, you get more points for items that are rarer.  So milkweed pods would warrant more points than acorns.  Next, you get more points if it is in better condition or is a full specimen.  A perfectly preserved luna moth would fetch a higher price than a June bug wing.  And finally, the part that I, as a parent, like best; the more you know about the item, the more points you get.  So if you do research about your item and can tell the museum staff alot about it, you get mega points.  If you don't know anything about it, that's fine too, then they'll tell you about it and it's a learning experience, but for the big points, you have to do your own footwork and reading.  And the way to earn the big kahuna of points?  Write a report about your item.  The better the report, the more points you get.

So naturally, after leaving the museum with their new treasures, the kids were pretty jazzed up to find more stuff to trade.  Right away they trapped a dying mystery bug on our livingroom floor and saved him up to trade.  No interest in writing a report though (darn!).  After that they kind of forgot about it until one day Mitch looked out the window and said, "Hey mom, I think Annie's eating a dead baby rabbit, you want me to go check it out?"

I called the dog in and sent him out to inspect the remains.  He and Henry were overjoyed to discover that it was not a baby rabbit, but was actually some kind of large leg.  With fur.  Ewww.  Where the rest of the animal was I didn't know, I just hoped it wasn't in the yard.  They brought it in and said, "Can we keep it?"

"Can we keep it?!?!" I replied, "Ick!"

"To trade at the Science Museum!", they pleaded.

I sighed, of course I couldn't say no in the face of SCIENCE!  So I bagged the thing, brought it inside so a dog or other critter wouldn't run off with it, and then promptly forgot about the frozen limb.

Until today.

Yesterday and today my mom kept asking me about a smell in the mudroom.  First I thought it was the bin of cloth diapers.  Or the pee sheets in the hamper.  Or the disposable diapers in the garbage.  All of which we took care of, but the aroma lingered.

I was looking for a screwdriver today when I spied the garbage bag on the shelf and the lightbulb went on - ding!  That was our smell.  The big old dead leg.

I knew what had to be done.  This wasn't my first foray into bone preservation.  For Henry's fourth birthday he wanted a dinosaur party.  For those of you who have never attended one of my parties, I am a pretty big party buff.  No Chuck E. Cheese birthdays for us!  Half of the fun for me is planning and executing elaborate themed parties, and trying to find unique activities for the kids to do.  Anyways, dinosaur party.  So one of the activities for Henry's dinosaur party was making imprint fossils and we had various shapes for them to press into their fossil clay, including bones.  Some fried chicken from the grocery store was called into service after dinner one day to be boiled and bleached for the purpose.

Later that summer we found a deer jaw just lying around in the trail at Grandma Beccie's cabin.  We brought that home too and gave it the boil and bleach treatment.  It now graces our mantle amongst other, less morbid items.

But back to the story at hand.  This big old leg, which appeared to be a deer leg (judging by the size and the bit o' fur that was stuck to it, though I am by no means a forensic zoologist), needed to be dealt with.  So I secured Ivy in her high chair with some bananas rolled in oatmeal powder (to make the slimy suckers easier to pick up)...

...donned my rubber gloves...

...and tried to ignore the stink.  Next I busted open the bag in the sink to see what exactly we were dealing with.  I knew what it looked like a couple days ago when it was frozen solid, but I wasn't sure what i'd find today.  Luckily it looked fine.  Like a dead leg.  Not too gross, just a bit smelly.

I started water boiling in my biggest pots...

...and then chopped the deer leg into two pieces.  I have two pots boiling going there because our stove kind of sucks so I wasn't sure if it could actually get the large pot up to boiling and keep it there.  So I got the smaller one going as back-up, and chopped the leg in half hoping it would fit in the pot.  It didn't...

...but at least the big pot did get boiling, so I used 'em both.  Perfect timing because at this point Ivy finished her bananas and wanted to be picked up.

Once I had wiped up her banana-y face and cleaned up my mess, the scent of dead leg was giving way to the only slightly less odorous eau de cooked leg.  And I heard the pitter patter of little feet.  I looked up to see two bright faces staring at me and Mitch asked, "Whatcha cooking?  I'm hungry, it smells great!".


Do you think it reflects poorly on my cooking that the smell of long dead wildlife boiling on the stove brings my children running, expecting to be fed?

Mitchell said he was SURE he'd eaten something that smelled like this before.  I said I was SURE I had never served stinky old boiled leg before.

After much stinking and scrubbing and boiling and soaking we got three pretty cool pieces of bone out of the deal.  Science Museum, here we come!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why I Hate Art

Each year we try to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and not just Christmas Day itself.   Makes for a somewhat less frantic early December when you don't feel like you have to cram a year's worth of joy and Christmasy-ness into two days.  We've been doing alot of yummy Christmas baking the last few days, socking away a little bit of each batch in the freezer for our Twelfth Night party, but mostly just gobbling it down as fast as we make it.  We're also making time for lots of the things we really love,  like board games, feeding the wildlife, thrift store shopping, movies, video games, theater, and today ART. 

Art is one thing I feel like I really don't do enough of with the kids.  I am a big old scrooge when it comes to any art other than drawing really.  The thought of clay, paint, and the like just makes me cringe.  All that mess and chaos... ugh!  Don't get me wrong, I love to do art myself.  I LOVE it, love love LOVE it.  But I tend to be kind of lazy when it comes to breaking out the messy stuff for my brood.  Or I thought it was laziness.  Today I'm thinking it is more like self-preservation instinct.

I was reading a Deep Space Sparkle article describing a lovely winter trees project involving shaving cream and thinking "I bet the kids would get a big kick out of shaving cream".  So, figuring it was the season for fun things, I got a couple of cans of shaving cream and cleared off the kitchen table.

Things started out innocently enough...

They were swirling colors and dipping papers...

Even the baby got to participate...

Don't worry, hers is whipped cream, not shaving cream...

If you want a fun blog post to inspire you to art projects of your own, stop reading now.  Get some cans of shaving cream and have fun.  If you want to hear our horror story however, read on.

At this point things took a turn for the worst.  Mitchell was really enjoying the shaving cream.  Enjoying it so much that he started rubbing it all over his stomach.  I sent him to go clean up a bit and while I was getting him to clean up, the other two decided to follow suit and start spreading shaving cream all over their bodies.  So I sent them to the bathroom.  While they were cleaning up, Mitchell decided to stir his shaving cream as fast as he could so all the colors mixed into a really putrid olive green.  So much for lovely swirls.  Then the little two came back from the bathroom and Henry decided to make his also a solid greeny mush.  I started to get a bit irritated that they were ignoring the whole concept of making beautiful art and instead were just focusing on the smoosh factor.  I tried not to let it get to me.  Intellectually I KNEW that boys will be boys and that they were having a great, fun, tactile experience even if they weren't making art as I had planned.  I praised Violet's lovely swirls because they really were lovely and the boys ended up asking me to help them have swirls too so we added more color to their green shaving cream.  In the end I was a bit frazzled but everyone had fun and had some swirly art.  Now, we could end the story there, but as you may have noticed, this last section didn't have pictures to go with it.  My hands were full of shaving cream and I was just too crabby to take any pictures of the green goo.

There also aren't any pictures to go with this next section. 

Once everyone had made several swirly art pictures and I was sufficiently out of patience, I started to get things cleaned up.  While my back was turned, setting pictures out to dry...

...Violet started rubbing shaving cream on her tummy and the boys started to dive into the shaving cream up to their elbows.  Their laughter started getting that crazy sound to it.  You know, when it starts to shift from joyful, delightful giggling to insane, overstimulated, maniacal laughter.  Plops of shaving cream started landing on the floor, on the chairs, on clothes.  Things were officially out of hand. 

I will admit, this was not my finest moment.  I yelled a bit.  Tossed out some choice phrases that had no business being said to children.  Maybe "yelled a bit" is being too kind.  I screamed.  I really lost it.  All I could think was that I had spent all this effort trying to do something fun and special with them and they were almost literally throwing it in my face.  Mitchell especially got the brunt of it because he is the oldest and "should know better" and his innovative little brain started all the mischief.  Everyone except the baby got sent to bathrooms.  The baby was wondering what the HECK all the fuss was about.

But another round of whipped cream stopped her wondering and she got back to business...

As the baby was getting round #2 of whipped cream, shenanigans started breaking out in the various sinks.  Thankfully, at that moment, Daddy walked in the door before I could strangle anyone.  He bustled the little kids off to the bathtub for a thorough cleaning, Mitch was sitting in Grandma's bathroom where I had exiled him, and I was left with a table to wipe up and a moment to catch my breath.

After a few deep breaths I went in to talk to Mitchell.  I apologized for screaming, told him I shouldn't have said the things I said.  Then we talked together about where things went wrong.  I asked him if he was at school, would he have taken the art supplies and started rubbing them all over his body?  He laughed and said "no!".  I explained that I was angry that they had misused the art supplies like that for me.  And he said, "But the shaving cream just feels so good!".  I started telling him how there is a time and a place for whole-body art.  And the time and place is outside in the summer, where they can be hosed off afterwards and not wreck any hardwood floor finishes or anything.  Then I had a light-bulb go off.  "The other place for whole-body art", I said, "is in the bathtub.  Where all the mess can be rinsed down the drain.  Hop in."

So Mitch continued his art exploration and I went to bathe the baby.

Bathing the baby always cheers me up.  And Fergie helped with the clean-up...

So, what is the moral of this story?  The moral is, I need to approach art with no expectations except mess.  Expecting any kind of aesthetically pleasing results is just setting myself up for disappointment and stress.  I mean, the whole point of art, in my opinion, is to enjoy the process and not worry too much about the end result.  I kind of lost that as I gazed at the Deep Space Sparkle pictures of magical snowy trees and imagined that we too could make something so preciously cute.  The kids didn't lose sight of the purpose though.  Their entire aim was to enjoy the process, so kudos to them.  And I apologize for raining on their parade.

Underestimating the amount of mess that can be made with two cans of shaving cream was a grave error in judgment on my part.  Frankly, I think all art should be done in the bathtub in the future.  It's really the perfect location.  Actually, we have an unfinished room in the basement with a drain in the floor...  shall we tile that sucker up for a whole-body art studio?  A very tempting idea actually...

And today as I reflected on what I could have done differently, another factor popped into my mind.  I had forgotten that the day before had been Mitchell's birthday.  We had promised him that a special ADHD diet didn't mean he could NEVER have the food he liked again.  We said on his birthday he could eat anything he wanted.  And boy he did.  We had McDonalds, pizza, donuts, the works! 

The thing about Mitchell's food sensitivities is that they generally don't affect him until the next day.  It's not an immediate thing.  So planning a messy art project the day after he stuffed his face with preservatives, gluten, dyes, milk, and high fructose corn syrup was just asking for trouble.  Mitchell said it best when he shouted as I took away my knitted stocking he was trying to unravel, "Geez, I'm just trying to do something INTERESTING!".  When he is off of his diet he has a desperate need to keep his brain stimulated at a very intense level all the time.  If we aren't providing something stimulating enough he will find a way to stimulate his brain himself.  Usually that involves pinching, tearing, shredding, bouncing, making noises, smacking, pushing, or in this case smearing things.  Art is fun, but not enough for him, so he has to involve more of his senses in the experience.  Staying on his diet really takes the edge off of this and brings it down to a much more manageable level.

So - note to self - don't try to do ANYTHING the day after Mitch has blown his diet except manage his symptoms.  Since he has been on his diet, I've started to forget how out of control things used to get back before we started the diet.  I started to forget why I needed to use numbers like the Crisis Nursery line or Crisis Connection hotline.  We haven't really had any days like that in a long time, but yesterday, our art day, was a throwback to one of those days.  One of those bad bad days before ADHD drugs and before elimination diets when we were trying "play therapy" (what a joke). 

So, while it wasn't one of my finest moments, I think yesterday was not without merit.  Everyone got bathed, swirly art DID get made, and mama learned (and re-learned) a few lessons. 

Note: The bottle of vodka and the shot glass in the pictures were not mine.  This time. :-) 
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