Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Maroon and Orange Tears

When you go to Tech, it’s in your blood. I think of the kind of camaraderie and the pride -- they call it “hokie pride.” It sounds corny, but it is how proud the students are of their school.

I never imagined that this is the way Virginia Tech would likely go down in history. I know everyone says that about their town: “Not my town, my town is a little town,” or “It would never happen in my neighborhood.”

But Virginia Tech is a place away from the big cities. It is away from the big city problems, away from all of it. It felt insulated. It felt safe. I never felt uncomfortable walking on that campus.

Then to hear what happened at Tech today, at my school. I couldn’t believe it—I still can’t.

-Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent and Virginia Tech graduate

I really don't know what else I can add to this, other than to say that the five years I spent in Blacksburg, VA were happy ones. This was where we lived when we started our married life together, where we had our first child, and where I worked as both a teacher and a grad student in the VA Tech Psychology Department.

Blacksburg always struck me as being a little utopia - a place hidden from the rest of the world, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, populated mainly by other young adults and professors. We lived very well on very little money, spent lots of time with friends and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the campus and the surrounding wilderness. I missed it terribly when we first moved away, but I had forgotten how much until now.

I am so sad, of course for the victims and their families, but also for my school, a beautiful place that does not deserve this legacy.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Some 2007 Pictures

Just in case you are a friend or family member who hasn't seen the little Savages recently, here's a recap of what Uno, Dos & Tres been doing since Christmas:

Tres still loves to pretend he's a kitty. We have found pictures of him doing this kind of thing as an infant, leading us to believe that he really was a kitty in a previous lifetime.

He and the mailman are great friends, as you can see by the way the mailman just turned complete control over his truck to him.

Uno and Dos displaying their Pinewood Derby cars. This was Uno's 5th and final Pinewood Derby and he came in second, which was very exciting for him. Dos didn't do as well, but last year, he won the "Most Creative" award for his car cut and painted to look like a #2 pencil.

Dos and Rocky sleeping in front of the fireplace.

Uno after receiving the Arrow of Light award, marking the end of his time as a Cub Scout and the start of life as a Boy Scout.

Dos, now promoted to the rank of Bear Cub.

Dos has his own blog now. If you'd like to experience his wacky literary talents for yourself, check out the "Smeethan's World" link on the right. Leave him a comment so he knows he's had visitors!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Early Morning Life

Has it been three weeks yet? Maybe I'm finally getting used to this early morning stuff. Today I woke up before the alarm went off, and when I woke up late a few days ago, it really did feel weird, like part of the day was over and I had missed it.

What am I doing with all of this quiet time in the morning? Messing around on the computer, of course, but also getting those little projects done around the house that are always so difficult once everyone else is up. Like filing pictures, sorting mail, reorganizing the basement, restocking the dog food bin, starting a new batch of ginger soda, etc. Avoiding working on the novel, which always makes me more productive in other areas. Once the garden is planted, I am looking forward to time fussing over the little plants. I'm sharing the garden with two friends this year, so I have to actually take care of it and pull a few weeds this time around!

I've considered starting the day with some yoga, but I'm still wearing jeans, which are too constricting for yoga. And I don't want to have to get dressed twice. Weird, I know, but soon it will be shorts season and it won't be an issue. Once it's really hot, this will be a nice time to take a walk.

I'm going to have to start getting up at 6 to fit all of this me-time in!

Today's project: Making more doggie treats.

They're cheap, they're natural and the dog loves them. (The kids have been known to try a few also.) Here's the recipe:

Rocky's Rockin' Biscuits

2 cups whole wheat or all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoon beef bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
1 T oil
1 cup hot water

Mix above ingredients in a medium bowl.

Stir well. Roll out on a well-floured surface to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into shapes. We like squares, triangles, rectangles and circles, but little people shapes are also fun. Place on an ungreased cooking sheet. Bake on center rack @ 275 F. for about 2 hours until dry and very hard. Leave them out overnight to get dry and crunchy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What Would Ben Say?

I am wrapping up the second week of taking Mr. Franklin's advice and all I can say is...

I'm tired.

Sure, I am starting to habituate to waking in the middle of the night, and have even worked my way to (gasp) 7:15. And although the first minute or two still feels like pure hell, I have to remind myself that getting up after one or more of the little Savages wasn't too great either. At least this pure hell doesn't involve a massive clean-up effort. I definitely enjoy having some quiet time each morning to get my head on straight (drink coffee) and organize myself before I face the non-stop craziness that comes with educating the little Savages. This part alone makes it worth getting to bed by 11:30 (okay, 12:00, but I'm working on it.)

So, score one point for Ben. I'm still not thrilled with his method, but I think I can get there in another week or two. Eventually, it will actually feel normal to see the sun rising and weird to wake up when it's already light out. In theory, anyway.

Having reluctantly accepted Ben's method in this regard, I am now being forced to deal with the question of his education. Benjamin Franklin was almost completely self-educated.

As my oldest son wishes to be.

Not that Ben necessarily had a choice in the matter - I believe his reason for leaving school to apprentice in his brother's print shop was lack of funds. But it seems to have worked out for him pretty well, or so I am oft reminded.

"Benjamin Franklin was also a highly motivated, hard working individual," I point out. "I have not been seeing these same qualities in you, my friend."

"Well, maybe if I actually liked what I was learning, I would be."

Has he been reading Gatto again?

This time, maybe he has. When I forced him to write an editorial this week, he did not hesitate to choose his topic - Unschooling. "Kids should be able to choose their topics of interest and the environment they work best in," he wrote.

Dangling participle aside, I had to admire the kid for choosing a topic close to his heart. He read up on it, outlined, and wrote up a draft with minimal teeth-pulling or assistance from me.

When I praised his effort, he grinned. "So, will you consider it?"

What would Ben say?

It's a tough call, and I do feel torn on the issue.

I mean, this is isn't just fun and games here. This is his education we're talking about.

This is his education.

Funny how where you put the italics can really change your whole mindset.

On the one hand, I think about how I would have liked learning at that age. There's more of me in him than I like to admit, and I do know and understand how he feels, as much as he might doubt that.

I have read the Gattos and the Holts and Growing Without Schooling and all the stuff out there that reassures fearful parents that yes, they really do learn, even when you don't force them to do it, and in the long run, they are better off.

I remember how, in our first year of cyberschooling, he spent months enthusiastically collecting information on the Apollo moon missions and came away knowing more about the space program than did most adults. I didn't force him to learn that - he did that all on his own, because he wanted to.

Where is that passionate, curious, knowledge-hungry little person now?

Have five years of following a set curriculum, fighting over the fact that it's time to do math, hearing me say put that guitar away and get to work on your paper, followed up with, come on, you can do better than this - have all these things done what I was afraid school would do to him?

A lot of people would say yes.

I humbly admit that, despite his reassuringly high scores on the standardized tests, I have not done the job I had hoped to do with him. He might know the answers, but he doesn't care anymore.

The questions are not his own.

I listened to my fears: that there might be gaps in his knowledge or skills, that he might not learn good work habits, that he would grow up thinking he was entitled to only do what he felt like doing at the moment, that he would eventually get to school and be behind instead of ahead, that he would never get into a good college or have a good job and that it would reflect poorly on my job as his teacher.

I know that it is his life and he has to learn to make his own good choices and deal with the natural consequences when he does not. I know that he would learn better with material that he has chosen and wants to master and when his power-struggle with me is no longer his primary focus. I know that my current method of do it because it's in the curriculum is not giving me the results for which I had hoped. Fighting over schoolwork has done nothing to foster a love of learning in him.

I know this, but it is still so hard.

Let's face it - letting go of the control over your child's education is a huge leap of faith. Most people take a version of this leap when they send the child to school. They let go and trust the teachers and administration into whose hands they have placed their precious offspring to do at least an adequate job.

But to trust the offspring himself? (shudder)

I must admit, they have all been very industrious this week without me chasing them down to "do school." Usually, I use spring break as a time to catch up in areas where we're behind. This time, as an experiment, I didn't ask them to do a thing. (No TV, of course.) It was nice to see that spark of creative genius return to Uno's eye, and Dos was not far behind. When they weren't reading, they were listening to audio books, and they played a lot of music and baseball, constructed and painted some impressive-looking swords out of PVC pipe and other found items, wrote up a plan to make and sell more dog treats at the neighborhood yard sale this month, and generally got along with each other.

Is this what true homeschoolers do?

What would Ben say?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rising Early

"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." - Benjamin Franklin

"But I'm a woman and I'm sleeping in."

This was my (smartass) response when some parental authority from my youth first imparted Mr. Franklin's wisdom to me. And, true to my word, I have been a night-owl my entire life. In grade school, I read by the light of my electric blanket into the wee hours when the folks confiscated my flashlight. In college, I chose my classes based on what was available after 12 p.m. I met and befriended Savageman because we were the only two freshmen who decided to stay up all night at the new student retreat, and I wound up dating and eventually marrying him because he was the only other person on campus awake as late as I on a regular basis. There was a joke among our dorm-mates that we were actually vampires, since they so rarely saw us during sunlight hours. In the two years we lived on campus, we made it to breakfast a few times, but only because we had pulled all-nighters and hadn't yet gone to bed. Yes, Savageman and I elevated night-owlishness to a new art form.

You would think that parenthood would have changed all of that, but it didn't. My graduate school schedule closely resembled my undergraduate schedule, and by the time Uno was born, I was done with my coursework and just needed to put in an appearance here and there in the department. Baby Uno and I would nap and nurse until noon. Savageman worked evenings, so he slept in with us too.

Even after Savageman started working regular hours, I still managed to sleep late with the kids. One of the joys of homeschooling is that there's no bus to catch. We started school whenever everyone was up and dressed, and if that wasn't until lunchtime, so be it.

Part of the reason we've maintained this lifestyle is that when the little Savages are in bed, our grown-up time begins. We clean up the house, watch a movie, read, relax, etc. We enjoy this time. A lot. We want it to last as long as possible. Sometimes, we make it last until 1 or 2 in the morning.

But all of that is about to change. I have made a life-changing decision.

I will become an early riser.

I have read up on the benefits of waking with the sun, and I am convinced that this is a good thing. I have also read that if you can do something consistently for 21 days, it will become a habit.

So, last night I dug my old alarm clock out and set it up. Across the room.

This morning, it went off at the ungodly hour of 7:30. I stumbled out of bed, turned it off, and fought the (powerful) urge to crawl back into my warm, cozy bed. I staggered into the bathroom. The first minute or two were awful and all I could think about was how good it would feel to get back in bed for another hour or two of sleep. But once my teeth were clean and my eyes had begun to focus, I began to feel normal. I could pretend I had actually had a full night's sleep and it wasn't really still the middle of the night.

I came downstairs, made coffee, unloaded the dishwasher, and prepared for my day. I sorted a year's worth of pictures and put them in albums. By the time everyone else was awake, I was feeling refreshed and energized.

Savageman warned me that at some point, I would hit the wall. Sure enough, by 5:30 or so, I was ready to crash. Thank God for Starbucks. Venti.

So now it's 10:30 p.m. The little Savages are finally in bed and I have an hour to cram in 3 hours of grown-up time. Instead of a 2.5 hour DVD, we'll have to watch a 30 minute sitcom. Instead of a chapter or two of a novel, it's a magazine article. Sigh...

The trade-off is that tomorrow morning I will have an hour of peace and quiet before the little Savages descend upon me. I can sip my coffee and finish my photo albums in peace.

Tomorrow, the alarm goes off at 7:20.