Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas thoughts

It’s 4 more days until Christmas. December flew past and so many of my plans were put on hold so that I could indulge in the true meaning of the season – to give of my time to a worthy cause. I was asked to come in and help out at  the Christian school that I had volunteered at two years ago. This time I was in charge of the middle and high school class. It is an ACE school so they use the PACE program – 12 booklets per subject per year that the students work on independently, so my job was more of a supervisor than a teacher.

It was a hectic three weeks and throughout my time I once again questioned those who call themselves Christians. You see, I didn’t need this job. I have my driving school and my husband has his weddings and between the two businesses we are taken care of, not to mention committed time wise. But we had made a promise to the owners of the school that if help was needed, we would be there. This was our Christian duty. My Christian duty, specifically, as I had the flexibility in my time to do this. And my two older children were fully capable of handling our offices and the care of their siblings.

So it’s the season of Christmas. A time to reflect on the birth of our Savior and the reason He came to earth for us. Pastors speak in churches of the spirit of giving and how this is not supposed to be a commercialized time of year, but a time for helping out those in need, giving to the poor, aiding widows and children, etc. As soon as I heard about the need at the school I called friends of mine who were looking for work and put out the word that here was an oppo9rtunity not only to earn money but to offer Christian service to a group of kids who needed to hear the gospel. You see this is not a school full of sweet Christian kids from good Christian homes. Oh there are a few students who fit that description, but the majority of the kids in this school are there because they have been kicked out of every other school they have attended. They are kids who have been in DYA or other similar programs, whose parents are desperate to find someone who will teach them. What a better audience for someone who wishes to share the gospel and possibly have an impact on a child’s life. And what better time of year to do it in?

Sadly I had no takers. Why is this? Because so many of them listen to rumors and hearsay and look at what is in it for them, not what it is they can give. Will I get paid for my services? How much time will it take from my busy season? I have too much to do this month!

Do they honestly think I have time for this? You know what I told my husband? He said to me, “Why you?” And my response was ,“Because who else will do it?” I had no idea how true this was. I’m  quite saddened by my fellow Christians who are not willing to step out of their comfort zones, who are not willing to step back from their Christmas programs and family obligations in order to truly give back to the community at a time when giving is so emphasized. I wonder what Jesus is thinking right now?

On another note, I read in the paper about a woman who only gives her children three presents each, to represent the three gifts the wise men brought Jesus. She said this was to teach them the gospel and to lessen the commercial aspects of Christmas. I have to admire her desire to teach her children this lesson, but at the same time I question it. For us, Christmas time is about the birth of our Lord and Savior and we do teach this to our children. We also have explained to them how it is a pagan holiday and that Jesus wasn’t really born at this time of the year. And the giving of gifts is more of a tradition. It is a time of year to give your children the things they need (my kids get a lot of new clothes at this time), we replace things that need replacing and we indulge in a few “I really want this” type gifts. It is a time to show our kids how much we love them. And it is just plain old fun.  We don’t have a lot of family around and so, aside from Grandma who sends money every year, all the gifts my children get are from us, their parents.  I don’t think giving only 3 gifts would go over so well with my kids.

Anyway, I hope that families that try to use this time of year to teach a lesson or something think about the other lessons that can also be taught. My children saw the sacrifices I made and understand that giving back to the community at this time of year is invaluable.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Late Night Conversations

Conversations with Cassie while she plays with scrabble letters at 11pm at night making words and having an impromptu spelling lesson:

Resulted in the following exchange.

“What does this say?”


We decide together that RIS is an acceptable name for a person – boy or girl. Stephanie points out that RHIS was a real name and would be even better but Cassie didn’t have an H. And besides she thinks it should be pronounced “Rice”. Cassie and I both agreed that RICE was a better name anyway and I suggested that Stephanie name her first born Rice.

“What? In memory of my days on Guam?”

We all giggle together.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Everybody’s got a Water Buffalo

“Is that caribou ours now or something?”  This was Stephanie’s question as she swept in the door a few moments ago.

“Oh, yeah, didn’t you know? Everybody’s got a water buffalo,” I started to sing.


And Larry has it right. Cause we really do have one that has seemed to have adopted us.

On Guam a Caribou (pronounced Care – i – bow) is just another name for a water buffalo. They were used by the Chamorro farmers to help them plow the field and make roads. Now it just seems they can be found in southern village yards, eating grass, or walking along the side of a road or highway being led by an old man with a stick. Or perhaps you will see one walking through the village, pulling a little cart, as it is led by an even older man.


This one belongs to our neighbor but we have this luscious patch of grass that he loves to eat. Apparently my husband had seen the mutual benefits of allowing this animal to graze on the corner of our property. Feeds the beast and means less grass to mow.

So tonight as the southern stars come out, a water buffalo is sleeping next to my car in my driveway. He joins our dog and several cats and whatever toads and chickens venture near in the night.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Maggie

Today is a special day in the Smith family household. It is the anniversary of our dear daughter Maggie’s birth and death. I’ve never really talked much about Maggie on this blog. Her story has been written before, on other blogs, but today I wanted to re-write it to commemorate her short sweet life.

Margaret Elizabeth “Maggie” was born on November 1, 2005. She only lived about 2 short hours. She was born 8 weeks early via C-section and weighed 9lbs. Yes, she was a big girl. Maggie had Fetal Hydrops, which basically is swelling and fluid retention in all her tissues. It was discovered in a routine ultrasound I had on that day. Prior to the ultra sound I knew things were not going well with the pregnancy. For the past month I had gained 20lbs and had severe swelling in my feet and legs, yet my blood pressure was fine. Since I am overweight the doctor did not take me as seriously as he should have and kept telling me to just put my feet up, that some swelling was normal, especially in our hot Guam weather. I knew this was not normal.

When we were told there was a problem with our baby and that a C-section was necessary in order to try to save her life, we agreed. We also decided it was time to close the “factory” down and consented to a tubal ligation. I also knew that the chances of my baby surviving were very slim.  We called our pastor and friends for prayer and I was whisked into the operating room where Maggie was born around 5pm. I was only allowed to hold her for about 10 minutes and then she was placed in her daddy’s arms and I was sent off to recovery. By the time I was taken back to the hospital room, Maggie had died. I never got to see her beautiful blue eyes. I’m sure they were blue, as all my babies had blue eyes.

There are so many things that happened that I look back on and regret that things weren’t done differently. No attempt was made to save her life. It was decided from the moment that she was born that she would not survive. I never found out if medically something could have been done and decisions were made for me that I never questioned. I have learned not to question these too much as it hurts too much to think about the “what ifs?”.

I do think that my life was in danger as what was affecting Maggie and causing her tissues to swell up, was also affecting me. I since watched a House episode where a mom was experiencing all the symptoms her unborn child was experiencing. I can’t remember what they called that, but I suspect that something similar was happening with me. In looking this up in google, I came across Mirror Syndrome.  I believe this is what I had. I do thank God that I am alive and am able to continue to raise the children He gave me. I do not understand why He felt He had to bring Maggie home so soon.  I do know she is waiting to greet me in Heaven, along with her two older brothers and sister I lost in miscarriages  between 1996 and 1998.

So for Maggie……

You would have loved being part of our family. Kevin, your oldest brother, would have been your champion and protector. He would have taught you that reading is better than watching TV and pretended he didn’t know who you were, but secretly would do anything to keep you safe. You may even have had his strawberry blonde hair and freckles.

Adam would have written you songs and played them to help you sleep. He would have made sure your toys were put away and taught you to sweep the floor with your own little broom. He also would pretend that you were nothing but a bother to him when he was busy, but would have protected you and kept you safe from anything that would hurt you.

Stephanie, your oldest sister, would have read you stories and sang you to sleep. She would have walked with you and rocked you when you were upset. She would have been the perfect big sister, loving you with all her heart and wanting only the best for you.

Eric would have been your knight in shining armor. He would have concocted all kinds of plays involving you and his other sister, Cassie, making sure the two of you followed him around and did whatever he wanted. He would have taught you to laugh and to run and to enjoy life to its fullest. He would have taught you to use your imagination, causing it to soar beyond this world.

And finally, Cassie, would have been your best friend. She would have taken such good care of you, being mommy’s little helper and making sure you were dressed up in the cutest outfits. She would have gladly shared her dolls and stuffed animals with you and taught you to crawl and act like a cat before you were a year old.

Sadly I have no pictures of you, but following are a few of your siblings that I think would have looked like you. I love you Maggie and you will always remain in a special place in our hearts.

Eric This is Eric. It is the closest picture I have to what Maggie looked like when I held her in my arms.

steph&cass Maggie’s sisters, Stephanie and Cassie. I imagine that Maggie would have looked very similar to her two big sisters!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Windows Live Writer

This will be a short post. Two in one day, I don’t want to overwhelm my few followers.

I just had to brag on this cool new program I found on my mini lappy I got for my birthday in September. Windows Live Writer. It is like a word processing program but specifically designed to work with most blogger programs. Basically you set up each blog you write on, and then when you desire to update your blog you can choose which blog you want to upload to. No more logging in and out of gmail if you run more than one blog using different email addresses like I do. I have my personal blogs, my business blogs, and a few others I write for. And there are cool editing tools like inserting photos, albums, tables, maps and videos easily using the handy tools in the sidebar.

So far it works great with blogger blogs. I have two others that are with a different blog platform that I still need to test but I have high hopes that it will work. 

So that is why I have been a more prolific blogger as of late.

Oh, I almost forgot. I have been using way more pictures now too as I discovered the memory card from my digital camera fits into the built in card reader on my lappy. (Lappy is what I call my netbook). So now adding pictures is easier than ever too. Thanks to Windows Live Writer.

The Shirt

We have this shirt that has been worn by all of my children (who fit it) so far. It is almost ready to be passed down to Cassie.

Here is Eric modeling it for us.


It has a nice little hoody at the back that is great for keeping the sun off the back of the neck when hiking. This is why this shirt has always been the hiking shirt. Kevin first wore it hiking through the woods of BC. Then it was passed down to Adam, who first wore the shirt here on Guam. Stephanie took her turn wearing it, and still on occasion puts it on. It still fits her. That is Eric’s goal too. That when the time comes for him to pass the shirt down to Cassie, that he’ll still be able to wear it from time to time. It’s just that kind of shirt.


I told Cassie that when she out grew it I would turn it into a teddy bear or something. Cut it up and use the parts for some kind of stuffed toy to be passed down the line. But then we all agreed that no, this shirt needed to be passed down to grandkids, and our goal is to see how many kids can wear it before it falls into rags. then turn it into a teddy bear!

I have no doubt all my children will agree. The shirt is THAT special to them all.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A Christmas Sneak Peak

Today I’m going to step off of the educational track and blog about a hobby of mine instead. Several years ago I started to get into stamping and making my own cards. Eventually I decided to become a Stampin’ Up demonstrator in order to get discounts on stamps and supplies. And maybe, just maybe I’d be able to make a bit of money on the side. Well, I haven’t been able to make much money yet, but I am having fun.

Because Christmas if fast approaching I have been working on Christmas cards. I decided to try a technique called One Sheet Wonder. It is where you take one sheet of designer paper and create as many cards as you can out of it. I found a template and managed to create 15 cards out of one 12” x 12” sheet of designer paper.

Following are some of my favorite creations. CIMG0185


CIMG0193 CIMG0189


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ug is Enuff!

I have raised a very proper daughter. So proper I’m thinking she should have been born sometime during the 17th century or something. After all this is my 15 year old who prefers to listen to French operas and read Jane Austin than the Jonas Brothers and Twilight.

Her latest peeve is the way her younger brother pronounces the word “ugh”. I had no idea there was a proper way to say such a word. Apparently it is not to be pronounced “ug” (hard “g” sound), but a more softer “g” because of the “h” after it. How to describe this sound? Like something a French person would say maybe? “uggghhhh”. Kind of like the sound a cat makes when it’s barfing.  Hard to explain without audio.

This is a big distraction for her. She really just cannot tolerate it when one of her siblings says “UG!” I have broken up two arguments in the past week over this particular word. I had no idea it caused her such distress when we abuse the English language.

But this is also the daughter after my own heart when it comes to proper writing. She refuses to resort to “chat speak” when writing a note or an email. The closest she gets to abbreviating words is the occasional LOL or ROFLOL. So I really can’t complain.

As I write this blog post she is entertaining her siblings with youtube videos of “Le Petit Prince”, the musical. In French, of course. She says it’s to follow up after reading them  Antoine De Saint-Exupery’’s The Little Prince. CIMG0068

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nerd Boy & Technology Girl

Today’s post has two special guest bloggers – My kids, Eric and Cassie. Cassie started it by dressing up as Technology girl.


So as dictated to me by my “technology girl” (and with some helping probing questions…)

technology girl: she love technology. Like ipods. and computers and video games. Her favorite game is Super Mario 3. Her favorite color is blue. She drinks iced tea while texting on her cell phone. she always talks in a loud voice because of her headphones.

Then of course, Eric needed to get in on the scene. So Nerd boy was created.


(Written entirely with no editing by Eric, age 9)

nerd boy : a nerd of course he loves all nintendo games except for the bad ones.he’s constantly on the computer trying to get the unfinished game:super mario galaxy 2  well he’s drinking Pepsi and  cuddling kittens.he loves animes .and hates it that game companies takes parts out of games like some really epic parts he finds on the internet even if it’s not possible to put it in the game. he really likes the comic book calvin and hobbes.oh and his favorite nes game is super mario bros 3 or Kirby's adventure  and his name is “chrono”familiar? yep nerd boy is SUPER EPIC AND HIS NAME ON A FORUM IS LOLLAZERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

(End guest post)

Together we have Nerd boy and Technology Girl. Perhaps the next super heroes for the homeschooling world?


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mommy Money and Daddy Dollars

There are benefits to cleaning your children's room for them. For instance, you know that it is clean, versus it just looking clean. And you get a chance to do inventory on just what is stored in that bedroom! I am still looking forward to that day when the kids are old enough to do a good enough job on their own. It still may be a few more years away for me.

Eric and Cassie share a bedroom, but they rarely actually use it. Because in the past what happens is they totally destroy it by throwing their clothes, stuffed animals, toys, etc. all over the place so that eventually I just close the door and put up a "do not disturb, danger zone" sign. Well, maybe not a real sign, but it definitely becomes an "enter at your own risk" zone.

About two months ago I did a thorough cleaning of their room and got things organized for them. That cleaning lasted about a week before it was once again a "do not cross the yellow safety line" area. Mostly this was a result of our cats. We had a cat, Nobby, who broke his hip and consequently had to be kept inside for 6 weeks to heal. And that necessitated having a litter box. I do not like cat litter boxes. Once you allow a cat to do his duty in the house, then it become s a habit that is hard to break once you get rid of the litter box. We believe that there is enough dirt in the great outdoors that we don't have to have box in the house for this duty. Anyway, we had to have the box. Well, unfortunately it is hard to explain to the other 11 cats in the house that this box is just for Nobby to use. As a result, it was becoming filled way too fast. And someone had the brilliant idea of putting the litter box in the little kids' room! Big mistake. Because this room is already the disaster zone it wasn't long before the litter box became the entire bedroom. I know you are all shaking your heads at me know as I confess at just how lousy a housekeeper I am. But I do work outside the home 6 days a week and to spend my one day of rest just doesn't happen.

Finally though something has to give. My husband and I have no privacy as the kids end up sleeping in our room half the time, or on the living room couches as their room is just "too stinky mom! " The conclusion was for me to take a day off work and clean their room. So that is what happened on Friday.

It's now been two days and they are doing a pretty good job of keeping it clean. To help them out they came up with a system that they think will motivate them.

Cassie brought me a baggie full of monopoly money and said, "Should we call this Mommy Money or Daddy dollars?" Their idea is that when they do a good deed or a job for me or dad, that they will be rewarded with money from this bag that they can collect and trade in for real money to buy things they want. Good idea (and not entirely original as they got the idea from Diary of a Whimpy Kid).

Now the challenge will be for me and my hubby to implement the idea. It is easy for the kids to come up with plans of action to help motivate them, but it is harder for me to follow through. If they can keep their room reasonably clean, maybe I can dole out the cash. It will remain to be seen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Are your kids friends?

Lately I've been noticing one of the biggest blessings of homeschooling. My children's relationship with each other. Last night, Cassie announced something about going to the library to read a book and I looked up to see her, Eric and big sister Stephanie walking out to the extension of our new house where our "library" and my craft room are located.

I looked over at my husband and raised my eyebrows.
"Apparently she's reading them a book." he replied.

Ah! As Les and I walked past the library window to spend some much needed quiet time in our outside garden spot, I looked in to see three blond heads, of various shades, leaning together over a book while Stephanie animatedly read to her siblings. Though I couldn't hear her voice, by her facial expressions and the little one's rapt attention I knew she had a gift for story telling.
I really wish I could capture these moments forever in time.

It occurred to me that not all families get along as well as my children seem to. At least not those portrayed in movies, books and t.v.shows. Nor do most parents want to spend as much time with their kids as we do. (When I say "we" I'm not implying that we are better than other parents, but I'm using the collective "we" that refers to most homeschooling families). In fact on a facebook comment one of my friends was looking forward to school beginning again so that she could get her life back. When I commented that my kids were with me all the time her reply was "I'd rather pour hot sauce in my eye." Now I realize she was probably being funny, but the sentiment is loud and clear. Parents actually look forward to having no kids around when school starts up.

I cannot imagine. I love being around my kids. And for the most part my kids like being around each other. They are normal though, so fights do occur. But they don't last long, and they are best friends when they are over.

Is this a product of homeschooling? Or would my children be as close if they were in public school all day? I imagine that full time school, where siblings are separated into age-segregated classrooms, will find their time so absorbed in school, homework and friends that brothers and sisters will be ignored or forgotten.

In a magazine from my hometown of Powell River, Powell River Living, they talked about an innovative program that took place in the public schools. "Roots of Empathy" families visit a classroom and allow the children to interact with a baby assigned to their class throughout the school year. The idea is to help teach the students empathy for others as they watch the child develop over the year and learn to interact and care for the baby during his visits. As soon as I read this article my thought was "they are trying to bring the home back into the classroom". Homeschoolers have it all figured out already! My older kids were intimately involved in the care of their younger siblings, so the closeness and bonds that have developed are strong.

Cassie loves to comment every time I do something she considers "normal". Like when I told her to have a bath and brush her teeth before going to bed, she commented "like they do in a normal family?" Implication is that we are abnormal. If so, I like it. If abnormal means happy and contented. With my kids as each others' best friends.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A few weeks ago I met a woman who was using Time4Learning with her 12 year old son. The name of the program sounded familiar and I realized I had seen several email ads for this over the summer. Curious, as I always am about new learning programs, I checked it out. At first I wasn't interested in shelling out $19.95 a month for a "homeschool curriculum". After all, I'm an unschooler and we don't use "curriculum". However, in my pursuit of my new venture, the Guam Home School Resource Center, I felt it was in my best interest to thoroughly check out any educational option that crosses my path so that I could give a recommendation to those that come through my doors and ask questions.

So, Cassie, 6, became my guinea pig. I signed up for the 2 week free trial version (which unfortunately you pay for in advance and then can be refunded if you decide to quit after the two weeks are up). We are entering our second week of the trial. So far Cassie loves it. In fact she is very funny because she will come up to me and say "I'm bored" and then look at me with her big blue eyes without telling me what will solve this boredom. After several suggestions of things she could do to become "un-bored" I'll finally hit on what is her desire. To go on Time4Learning.

I'm not a typical homeschool parent. I have not gone into the system and set up a lesson plan for her to follow. I have allowed her complete freedom to choose what activities to do and what lessons to follow. When you first log in you are required to answer some basic questions about your child's learning in order for them to place them in the correct grade level. Since Cassie is 1st grade and not a reader she is doing some kindergarten level and some 1st grade level. She knows her letters and sounds and can read simple words but hasn't quite got the "click" that will bring reading together for her. The program does read to her, so our new headphones come in handy. It also highlights the words it is reading on the screen so that she can follow along. I know that will help her recognize words and increase her sight word list. Already after the first week I have seen evidence of an increase in her reading vocabulary.

Math she is right on level for. Our work with Math-U-See last year has really helped her and she understands math concepts easily. I've noticed that those are the lessons she follows in a systematic fashion, completing them to the end and moving to the next one. With the reading and science ones, she jumps around as her interest leads. She loves the science section the best and even though her reading isn't up to par her comprehension level is excellent. Language Arts extensions are great too, as stories are read to her and she has to answer questions based on the stories. She is scoring well in that section too.

I have a feeling that once this two weeks is up we will continue this until her interest wanes. It has been a great tool to use to keep her happy when mom is too busy to entertain an inquisitive 6 year old.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Guam Homeschool Resource Center

My husband, Les, and I have decided to start a new venture on Guam. The Guam Homeschool Resource Center. We plan to operate as an independent resource center for homeschoolers on Guam.

Over the years I have found myself to be on the frontlines when it comes to newcomers arriving on Guam and wanting to know about homeschooling on our beautiful island. Part of it is due to this blog and others that I have. I've also been active in the Guam Homeschool Association as leader (two different occasions), newsletter editor, resource box person, and webmistress. As a result I have in depth knowledge on the ins and outs of homeschooling on Guam.

Our Resource center will be a place where new families can come and ask questions about homeschooling on Guam. I will have magazines, catalogs and sample curricula to share so that families can have an idea what is out there. We also have Wi Fi access and computer stations for families to use to look up resources.

I'm excited about this new venture and hope that we can provide homeschoolers on Guam a safe haven for exploring this new educational alternative.

Check out our website:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Budding Comic Book Creator

Well, I feel it is time to officially announce my son's career choice. It has become abundantly evident that Eric will some day be a famous comic book/cartoon writer. Here is his latest "comic".
These scans don't come out as well as they should so here is the interpretation of each comic strip.
Title: Swearing Causes Nothing but Misery
First Comic Strip:
Tatle Tale
Panel #1: whistling while cooking hot soup on stove
Panel #2: Uh Oh! Earth Quake! (soup splashes out of pan)
Panel #3: Ow! (Bleep) (soup gets in his eye)
Panel #4: (figure in open window) You said a bad word! I'm gunna tell your mom!
Panel #5: Hey She douse [does] as well!

Second Comic Strip:
Bad Past
Panel #1: Ahh...I had such a great past....
Panel #2: (memory sequence begins....)The ice scream store is next.
Panel #3: trips and falls....
Panel #4: Says a bunch of bad words. Girl friend thinks "break up!"
Panel #5: Wate! [wait] what? How? Why? (a little shaken up over the fall and the break up)
Panel #6: (end of memory sequence) Wate [wait] a second!
Panel #7: I had a horrible past!

I believe Eric is getting the idea of quick short gags and jokes. He is constantly amazing me with his wit and humor. You can believe I am saving all of these for his portfolio and to share when he is famous!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Eric's been on a roll....

This week Eric has totally amazed me with some of his artistic creations and writings. His sense of humor never ceases to awe me. I found an old Whiskers comic that I just love, so it is posted on his Adventures of Whiskers blog. I had a hard time getting that up as it's been so long since I first made it for him that I forgot how to access it.

Here is the History of the World according to Eric.
First panel is the middle row, depicting a cave man in a cave with stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Then it moves to the top row where we have a Shaman outside his grass hut. Reminiscent of how man moved from Cave dwelling creatures to building grass huts and hunting on the plains. Eventually man moved on to build the pyramids so we see the Egyptian phase of history. From the pyramids, we move onto the Viking stage, where Eric the Viking sailed from the cold northern seas and terrorized the rest of the world. Majestic pillars dominate the next panel, showing us the age of Greeks and Romans. Moving on in history, pirates took over the world (according to Eric, remember?). And finally we have the modern age of space ships and walking on the moon. The final panel shows what Eric hopes the future will hold. Anti-gravity boots for walking upside down on the ceiling and cars with antennae and pincher bumpers for picking up stuff in the road.

Finally, Eric wrote a poem.
He still needs to work on his spelling and spacing and punctuation, but he has vastly improved since last year. I've fixed up the spelling and punctuation so that you all can read it clearly and get the full benefit of his writing genius.

A little Squirrel saw a tree top
He saw acorns then up the tree he hopped
He ran halfway up, fell down
Oh how he wished he had the lot
Then he saw the pump station
Climbed up and then jumped
He stretched out his arms and flew!
He got to the tree top!!
Now he has those nuts!

I love when my children have these creative moments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Girls

My girls have been a source of amusement to me lately, so I thought I'd share their latest antics.

Cassie, my youngest, is 6 1/2 and is lovable, cuddly and at the same time a wild gal. She is my jump roper and attends a class once a week to perfect this art. She climbs trees and ladders as high as she can go (much higher than mom is comfortable with). She can hula hoop and skip with a hoop and do other fancy tricks. She would rather teach herself how to jump backwards and do cross over tricks with her jump rope than to work on endurance techniques. She's six. She wants the fun stuff.

She is also incredibly perceptive and has a vocabulary far beyond her age. Once when she was 4 we were driving through a parking lot and some kids were playing in the parking lot area where cars were driving. Looking around she said, "It is very inappropriate for children to be playing here". All I could do was agree wholeheartedly. She is not afraid to speak her mind.

So yesterday, while I was toweling off after Water Aerobics, she said, "Mom, why do you exercise?"
"To get skinny" I replied.
She looked me up and down and then said, "Well, it's not working." I nearly died laughing. I could see this coming from a mile away.

My other daughter, Stephanie, is 14, going on 15. She is becoming an independent lady. She has been attending a youth group at a local baptist church for the past few months and is really enjoying it. Today she told me that they were planning a paint ball event soon. She actually expresses a desire to go!

I'm thinking to myself, "Is this really my daughter? Or is she my husband's daughter?" More like the truth. Thankfully she has a strong dad who isn't afraid of a little fun that involves running. I was never good at running......but this isn't about me!

So while pondering my daughter's courage, my husband pointed out to me an important fact I had not considered. This summer Stephanie is going to spend time with her best friend from 2nd grade, whom she hasn't seen for 6 years. She has some trepidation about this because her friend is planning all kinds of activities that sound a little more daring than my daughter's normal slow walks on the beach, and the occasional water park day. So my husband's premise is Stephanie wants to do the paint ball thing in preparation for her visit with her friend! Kind of a "gear her up and toughen her up" event. Aiy!

So here's to my two girls. So different from their mom. Yet with many great qualities. And they did inherit some stuff from me. Like writing and art.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Midnight Sun Critique

Just for fun I thought I'd jump on the Twilight bandwagon and do a mini-review of Midnight Sun, the online partial rough draft of a book that I pray SMeyers does not ever finish. First off, I need to give credit for the inspiration to write this blog post to Rachel of Rachel does a wonderful job of picking apart Twilight, chapter by chapter. Funny, inspirational, and well, fairly right on the mark.

I confessed in an earlier post that I have read Twilight. I've actually made it through New Moon and Eclipse but haven't quite gotten up the courage to shell out another $11.99 for the final book, Breaking Dawn. To be honest, they weren't as horrible as I had imagined, and made for a light read while doing laundry at the laundromat.

So...Midnight Sun. This is Twilight from Edward's perspective. I'm not going to attempt to do a chapter by chapter review, but just give my general impressions and point out some bloopers that really stood out to me.

First of all, what is up with the word "chagrin"? For some reason this word kept appearing over and over again. Miriam Webster defines this word as "disquietude or distress of mind caused by humiliation, disappointment, or failure". Bella seems to suffer from this a lot. I didn't count every instance of this word, but trust me, it made its way into every chapter, sometimes more than once. My favorite use of the word: pg. 144 Rosalie turned to glare at me, her eyes sparkling with chagrined fury.

And then there is the whole breathing issue. First of all we are told that as a vampire, Edward does not need to breathe. Okay, makes sense since technically a vampire is dead. Yet he does need to breathe in order to smell his prey, or Bella - even if he does do a lot of breath holding to avoid smelling her "delectable" scent. I just found it unnecessary to read about every breath he took. I found myself yelling at the computer screen (remember this is an online book) "He can't breathe!!!" every time I came across a reference to Edward breathing. eg. pg 72. Tyler was paying us no attention at all, but Carlisle was monitoring my every breath.
Uh why? Were you breathing too much Edward?

But it's not just the breathing issue that got to me. It seems that even though vampires are "cold ones" and therefore do not themselves have blood flowing through their veins, they still seem to be able to exhibit similar blood loss to their faces as humans do when confronted with a shocking situation. eg. p64. (ref. Carlisle) He jumped to his feet, his face paling to bone white. And how exactly is this supposed to happen? Humans' faces turn pale because the blood rushes away from their faces in times of stress or shock. Can you honestly say this would happen with a vampire??

In defense of Edward, Midnight Sun does a good job at addressing many of the creepy issues that are brought up on Rachel's blog. Like his stalking. He admits to being a stalking vampire. p.75 Like a stalker. An obsessessed stalker. An obsessessed, vampire stalker. Uh, good thing this is a rough draft 'cause obsessessed is not in the dictionary! I sure hope her editor would have picked up on this if it made it to print. Though I've read there is some question as to whether her books were edited at all.

I also found it funny to read from Edward's perspective how his attempts to be chivalrous just end up looking creepy. Friends who defend Edward remind me that he was originally from the early 1900's where chivalry was not dead. So his desire to drive, to carry Bella (since she is obviously too delicate to walk), and to open doors for her makes sense. I'm not convinced that Edward is as controlling as some make him out to be. He does get very frustrated that Bella will open the door for herself before he can do his lightening fast vampire walk around the car to open it for her. eg. p.178 She already had her door half open before I'd walked around the car - it wasn't usually so frustrating to have to move at an inconspicious speed - instead of waiting for me to get it for her.

For someone who has read Twilight, there are vast parts of Midnight Sun that make me want to pull out my copy and compare to see if the scenes match. I'm thinking it is a bit of a cheat for an author to pull a scene from another book, word for word. Putting in names for characters that are not mentioned in the first one just seemed unnecessary and lame to me, as well. Do we really care that Lonnie is the name of the guy who leered at Bella? And what's with the Ben scene? Are we really to believe that this Ben guy is so stupid that he would believe that Edward wanted to ask Angela to the prom? After the whole school has witnessed him eating lunch with Bella? These vain attemps at "plot" just don't work for me.

And that is the bottom line for this entire series. Plot is severly lacking. Sure there is a premise and interesting characters, but we are subjected to page after page of intense, mind numbing....drivel (for lack of a better word) that makes me want to scream "get on with the story will you!"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Day in the Life of Cassie

Yesterday was such a great unschooling day for Cassie, my youngest daughter, that I thought I'd share what she did.

Cassie woke up around 9am and immediately started to be bothered by her older brother Eric. Typical conversation emanating from their shared bedroom consisted of "Errriiiicccc!" and "Casssssssiiiiieeee!" as they greeted each other and complained about whatever the other one was doing. Not to be daunted for long though, Cassie bounced out into the living room where she gave her dad a very long morning hug. On the table she spotted her "passport" from the previous day's geography fair that she attended with the Guam Homeschoolers.

"Did you know I have a passport to go to the moon?" she asked her dad, then eagerly showed her the "moon" sticker she had in her passport booklet. Her dad was notably impressed.

Around 10am, I loaded the kids into the car to make the drive into town and to my driving school office. On the way, Cassie sat quietly in the back seat, looking out the window and singing along to the songs on the CD I was playing (Voltaire in case any one is wondering). I love listening to her sing to herself.

At the office, the usual "I'm hungry" complaints began, so I told the kids to make themselves ham sandwiches. I love that they are at an age that, for the most part, they can feed themselves. For the next three hours, Cassie contentedly amused herself in various activities. She found the Story time Felt dolls we had used the night before at our display of international costumes. So her first play involved these dolls and a felt board with a meadow and trees as background. For at least a half hour she occupied herself with these, singing, telling stories to herself, making up situations for the dolls to dress up in different costumes. I was busy inputting receipts and clearing out my inbox so didn't catch all that she was saying, but I could hear her little voice prattling away.

A while later I looked over at the table to see what she was up to and found her occupied with a microscope. She was intently setting it up all by herself (I had first showed her and her brother how to use this very cheap microscope about 3 weeks prior). She figured out how to shine the light so she could see through the lens, change slides and find things to look at. I wasn't sure if she really had it set up properly until she came over to me and said, "Did you know salt looks like a square?" She then bounced off to find more things to look at under the microscope. She even went out to the beach and brought in some sea weed, sand and other interesting items she found. Unfortunately Eric finally noticed what she was doing and had to get in on the action and refused to let her show him how it was done. The two of them are so different in this way. She is willing to listen and follow directions, and Eric is like a bull in a china shop, barging his way in, knocking stuff over and then wondering why it doesn't work for him, refusing to listen to any form of instruction. So after separating them, Cassie was able to finish up some of her experiments in peace.

Some other things she did included drawing pictures, looking at some scholastic book fliers and picking out books she wanted, making herself a bowl of oatmeal as an afternoon snack, riding her bike behind the building, and playing at the beach. She also played some on the computer, once Eric gave up his spot.

At home in the evening, after eating dinner, she practiced her jump rope, played with her hula hoop (where she has learned to hula for at least 6 or 7 turns now), watched a few episodes of Corner Gas with me (wonderful Canadian sitcom), and then fell asleep laying on top of me on the couch. It won't be long before she is too big to do this, so I treasure these moments.

And that was a very typical day in the life of Cassie, my 6yo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another reason for unschooling

This morning I was reading a Calvin and Hobbes comic in the bathroom. This is the preferred reading room in our house. I've mentioned before that Eric learned to read by reading Calvin and Hobbes comics so that is one reason this is popular bathroom reading material. Here is the comic that caught my attention.

Here is the crux of the problem in any school setting, even for those who choose to do a more traditional homeschool curriculum. What is being taught is not necessarily what a child is interested in. So how then can the child's attention be kept?

Look back at your own experience in school and what are the things you remember the most? If you are like me, the things I learned in school that I remember reflect those things I was interested in. If the subject matter did not interest me, I did not retain any of the information.

This is why I love unschooling. By catering to my children's interests I am guaranteeing that what they learn they will retain. This has been proven to me time and time again as my children come to me and spout facts they have learned or share an interesting tidbit they remember.

I know there are those out there who will cry "But what about learning things you aren't interested in? Isn't that just as important?" Sure, there are many things I have learned and am knowledgable about that were not initially in my "field of interest". I have learned them out of necessity in order to function in society. Like doing my taxes. Not very interesting, but a necessary part of life. The key, of course, is teaching your child how to learn, so that when something comes up that they need to know about, they have the resources, ability and even desire to learn about it.

Instilling a love of lifelong learning is my goal with my children. When they learn the facts is not important. How they learn them is. This is why we unschool.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confessions of a Supermom

Well, today was tax day on Guam, and as usual, I was down to the wire on getting them finished. But I was successful. The tensions that lead up to tax time for me, always leave me a bit drained afterward. As a result, I arrived home from the day with a raging headache.

Alas, Supermom cannot take time off for headaches, so I whipped up dinner (teriyaki chopped steak with rice and peas). After dinner, I was resting my chin on my hands at the table when Cassie brought over an alphabet stencil card and asked me what it was for.

She stood before me in stained shirt and shorts, grubby hands clutching the plastic purple stencil.
"You need a bath." I said, before answering her original query.
"You mean a shower, " she said, since our new house doesn't exactly have a bathtub, more of a high tiled large shower stall.
"Bath...shower.....whatever. You need one before bed." I answered.
"You mean like other kids get before bed?" she asked.

Uh, oh. My supermom status was at risk here! I had been found out. No regular nightly baths for my kids? Truth is my kids are always in the water - whether at our beach office or at a swimming pool, and so often the rinses after swimming sufficed for their daily bath time. But sometimes, like today obviously, where Cassie had had an active day playing at the office, inside and outside, riding her bike and attending jump rope class (she can now do "kriss kross" jumping!) a real bath was necessary.

But before bath time, we needed to address the alphabet stencil question. I found an old bill on the table and flipped it over to the blank side and showed her how she could use the stencil to write her name. That lead to her wanting to try and she wrote "Mom" and "Dad" after a few hints on how to find the letter "d". Some letters just like to give kids trouble! From those two words, Cassie proceeded to find and strace out "Adam", "Stephanie", "Eric" and "Kevin", (learning some important phonetic rules along the way). Her interest in the process lasted through some cat names too - Daisy, Pillage, Wafflebox, and Nobby.

At one point during this impromptu writing lesson, Eric came along and bet me $5 he could write "Pteradactyl aquarium of the legends in industries" with less than 10 spelling mistakes or "wrong letters" as he put it. So the game was on. He made it with only 8 wrong letters and then wrote the sentence "Thanksgiving plan doesn't work out as expected." with only 3 mistakes. So as soon as I get some more money in hand, I owe him.

What I loved about this evening is that both children enthusiastically initiated a learning task appropriate to their level. More learning occurred in that half hour of interaction than an entire day in school would have accomplished.

Bath time happened (shower actually). Chocolate cookies were baked and eaten. Legos were played with, and now one child is asleep curled up on a bean bag chair while the other is reading a science book "Kid's Ask Where" and sharing tid bits of knowledge with me as I type. My headache has abated and it's time to call it a night.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Who's Business is it?

In the past few weeks I have had various people comment on my children and their future plans. It seems that people are concerned that my children seem directionless and too "shy" to amount to anything. Hence the title of this blog post.

I have been homeschooling my kids for over 20 years, with a few minor forays into public or private schools. Over the years I have come to follow the unschooling philosophy. It suits our lifestyles, my personality and the personalities of my children -- which are varied.

My oldest son was very self motivated. Taught himself to read at 2 1/2. Knew what he wanted (most of the time), and how to get what he wanted. During his stint in private school he saw his own learning gaps and figured out how to fill them in. Now at 24, he is an active member of the US Air force and has just CLEP tested his way to an associate's degree. He's currently taking a break from his learning to assess just where he wants to go before declaring a major and pursuing his Bachelor's degree. Unschooling was ideal for him as it allowed him to pursue his own interests and excell in them.

My second son is an artist and a dreamer. He is the one "people" are most concerned about. Friends and family seem to feel it is necessary to question whether we are doing the "right" thing with him. From birth he idolized his big brother. As a child he was sensitive to sounds, smells and touch. He never liked to play in the sand at the beach. He liked to line his cars up in rows and he liked to keep his toys neat and organized. In 1st grade, his one year in public school, he hid under his desk during times of stress, had few friends, didn't talk to people and was labeled as "shy". His teacher tried to blame my homeschooling him through kindergarten for his behavior. However I had been a preschool teacher, and he had come to work with me for the first 5 years of his life, so was always exposed to groups of children and learning situations. Since kindergarten in Canada was just an extension of preschool, I really don't think he missed a thing. This was just Adam. After we moved to Guam, Adam and Kevin were forced to spend a lot of time together, and with their uncle Mike, (same age as Kevin). Together they wrote their own newsletter and created their own videos. An artistic streak began to emerge for Adam. He loved to draw and create and write stories and poems. At the same time he prefered to keep to himself and did not attempt to make any friends. And he was happy. When he was 11, our family had a little snack shop in the preschool I worked at, and Adam became the main counter attendant --selling the snacks to the parents and children, keeping the shelves stocked, making change, using his organziational skills to keep the counters neat and clean. And daily interacting with people. Still he prefered to keep his thoughts and voice to himself. At 16 he expessed an interest in music and asked for an electric guitar for his birthday. Alone in his room, he taught himself to play guitar and later piano and before I knew it, he was composing his own music on computer. When he turned 18 we declared him graduated from homeschool. Now it was time for him to decide what he wanted to do with his life. He told us he didn't want to move out. He wanted to stay home and work on his music. Since he was such a great asset to our household, helping out, looking after his younger siblings, cleaning, cooking, and (once he got his license), driving them around, we agreed to let him stay home as long as he was willing to help us in our family business. So now at 20 he has composed over 50 songs and compiled them on CDs. He has competently run our northern office for the last year, keeping it clean, maintained, dealing with clients and employees, and handling the finances. He is learning business and management skills that are invaluable. At the same time he is allowed to continue to pursue his music. So what if he still prefers not to talk unnecessarily, or he has no "friends". Sometimes I think his silence is what scares people. They can't understand why someone would prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Then there are the rest of the kids. All different. All unique. And since this is getting so long I'll have to tell you all about them in another post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Writing

Today I was talking with a new homeschooling mom who was very concerned about teaching writing to her daughter. She showed me an example of her girl's writing lessons and my first reaction was "did you write this for her? " The printing was impeccable and the spelling and punctuation perfect.

"How old did you say she is?" I asked.
"She's almost 8."
"And what is your concern?"

I really didn't get it. I saw nothing wrong with this young girl's writing. Sentence structure was fine. The sentences made sense. And the handwriting floored me. I know that often girls are more meticulous than boys but when I thought about my son's handwriting I have to admit I was a little embarrassed. I'm not sure I'd want to show this particular mom a sample of Eric's writing. Especially since she obviously has very high expectations. You see, she was concerned because her daughter had struggled to write this paper. She had complained and whined and fussed. She wanted to go outside and search for bugs not write a paper. Mom was worried that her daughter wasn't up to par with others in her age bracket.

I did my best to reassure her. At the same time, inside of me I wanted to say, "cut the girl some slack!" She has been having her daughter write a daily journal, as well as do all other kinds of writing depending on the curriculum assignments of the day. No wonder the girl was whining! I would whine too if I had to sit for 3 hours a day writing when the world outside was calling me.

Even as a seasoned homeschooler it is hard for me to get parents to understand that this kind of coercive writing is not going to encourage a young child to be creative. She complained to me that her daughter didn't have any ideas for what to write and had a hard time using her imagination. My best advice to her was to ease off. Have her write one story a week. The rest of the time, let her explore her world. As she is given the freedom to do this, I have a feeling the ideas will start to flow.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beta Testing

Back in January I signed my 9yo son and myself up to be beta testers for a writing curriculum. I was probably too ambitious in doing such a thing. The product, Write Shop Primary, Book C, is a wonderful easy to use writing curriculum for children in 2nd or 3rd grade. Our job was to test and evaluate this product. 

When the intro and first lessons arrived in my inbox, I eagerly printed them out. In my effort to be conservative and thrifty, I printed it double sided and reduced the text to fit two pages per side of the sheet. This was my first mistake! I keep neglecting to factor in, that at 45, my eyes are just not as good as they used to be. As I read through the introduction I found myself straining to read the small text and ultimately straining to understand it! But really this was a visual problem and no fault of the material. So after realizing that I just wasn't getting it, I printed it out again, still double siding the paper, but in it's original font. So much for saving a tree! And now I was a week behind in my "testing" schedule. 

Eager to prove that this unschooling mom could in fact follow and implement a lesson plan when necessary, I proceeded throught the first 3 activities for week 1. Only it took me all week instead of 3 days. Oops. Getting further behind now. Other participants were already commenting on Week 2 lessons and I had 5 more activities to do to finish week 1! Now granted this program is designed to do the Lessons (each consisting of 8 activities, plus bonus levels...I mean extras ...sorry to slip into video game speak, my kids are rubbing off on me) in 3 weeks but we are supposed to be on the fast track in order to finish this evaluation in 10 weeks. Yikes. 

So maybe we'll skip some activities to speed things up. One activity is a Daily Writing Activity, or Guided Writing Practice. The accelerated schedule would mean we would have to do two of these a day. So we skip the second one. Thankfully the consensus from the group is in agreement on this. Granted every day we are supposed to do the GWP as a warm up for the rest of the lesson. Eric found this hard to do everyday. And since our educational philosophy balks at "forcing" a child to do something, I tend to let it slide. Eric does write everyday. But it is what he choses to write. He has a whole video game/comic book series going on in his head day and night. So as the muse hits him he draws these out - cartoon style with more drawing than writing. But a story is being told, so I encourage this form of writing. However, it is not what the curriculum requires....

It's been three weeks now and I have basically let this "project" slide further down the hill of procrastination. We have several things that have occurred in our lives - my husband started working for a new wedding company which means more work & more stress as we all adjust to his new schedule. I've had to assume more responsibility at the office. At the same time I've been battling depression and weight issues and trying to get to the gym more often. And we decided to move from our beach house. We have given ourselves lots of time to do this move, but it still requires us to do some planning and packing and lots of cleaning. Needless to say, making sure I do a lesson everyday with Eric has not been happening. 

But all is not lost. The ideas in this writing curriculum are really valuable. I sure could have used this and implemented it well when I was teaching at ECA last year. I will highly recommend this to anyone looking for a good writing program for their children. 

How does an unschooler utilize such a great program? Ideas!! I collect books, curricula, magazines, e-books, lesson plans, etc. so that I can strew them before me kids. Yesterday I told Eric that we really needed to crack down and do some story writing and that tomorrow we would start. Later in the evening I asked Cassie where Eric was and found out he was in the bedroom working on one of his Whiskers stories. When I later checked, sure enough he had written two full pages. His spelling and punctuation where non existent but the sentence structure and thought were wonderful. 

Using hints and pointers from the Write Shop program, I photocopied Eric's story and we used the copy to edit his spelling and punctuation. Then I showed him how to open up Word and type this on the computer. He has just recently been playing with typing on the computer so this is great practice for him. At first he was silly and started banging on the keyboard, typing gibberous.  I have to be careful not to get exasperated with this behavior as it is part of his personality to try to irritate his mother. So I walked away saying "never mind, I can see you're not ready for this" which made him stop and say "no I'll do it proper now" and he began typing his story. He managed to work for about 10 minutes dilligently before he grew tired, announcing that it is much harder to tpye than to use a pen. I showed him how to save his work. 

So in one day's time we covered "computer capers", "editing", and we also went back and did one of the lesson activity pages from lesson two - the secret file. We are waiting on his dad's opinion on whether to pursue turning that into a real story due to the "RRRRRRRRR" rating Eric gave his story (due to extreme blood he said - the hero is decapitated and the monster drowns in the ensuing blood). 

We may not be the best beta testers for this program, and we may not be following the lessons to the "t" but Eric is having fun and mom is learning how to roll with the flow.