Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Picnic with Your Horse

This is what I'd hoped would happen if we moved to the country. The day finally came. With a friend over to encourage them to play, to dress up, to head outside, to explore, the girls were hard at it. Then afternoon teatime came and where better to have tea than out in the pasture, right?

It was SO fun to hear the girls giggling and carrying on, and fantastic to see them communing with Maddie. (Lady kept herself clear. She's not used to urchins crawling around in her pasture.) Maddie is really social and, when we hike, typically hangs out QUITE close to us during our snack breaks. We suspect this has something to do with the last owner who informed us that the horse liked French fries and peppermint candies.

To picnic with a horse, however, there are some important safety tips. First of all, the horse must be VERY mellow. Maddie's a follower who we've worked with a lot. We've played with all sorts of odd things around her, as had her previous owner, and we've taken her packing which provided an entirely different desensitization opportunity.

The horse must also know she's not the Alpha animal. YOU must be the boss. If you have a horse that pushes you around when you're standing, you don't stand a chance on the ground. Work with her in the round pen (a LOT), on the trail, in the barnyard. Just put her on a leadline and spend a lot of time on the ground with her, always making sure she knows SHE is following YOU, not the other way around. Be her respectful, but leading, partner.

Don't start giving her treats  mid-picnic. Once you've given her a treat, she's going to horn in on the picnic blanket, the basket even the teapot. Have her stand aside, give her loves, scratch her nose, but make her wait for treats every time. She'll graze nearby if she's really hungry.

And have fun!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

San Simeon Point with Kids

I've been waiting for years to do a legal hike onto San Simeon Point. Until a couple of years ago, the point was owned by the Hearst Corporation, and previously by William Randolf Hearst of publishing fame. Today, it is publicly accessible property owned by the State of California.

We took the walk on a clear, sunny, warm day. This beach can be cold and windy, but of SLO County's North Coast beaches it's among the warmest on any given day due to its south-facing orientation. If the fog's going to burn off along this stretch of coast, it's a good bet this will be the first place to get a peek at sunshine. Plus, it's a great stretch of sand on an otherwise rocky coast.

We'd hoped to meet up with fellow family hikers and were greeted by one great mom and her boys. We waited briefly for the rest of the gang, but having learned from experience that folks often don't show when they say they will, we headed out.

The hike starts with a quick walk down the beach, then an easy walk up the bluff trail. We were waylaid by a forest of climbing trees that grabbed our children's attention and held it far longer than the hiking moms had anticipated. But once all branches were covered at least twice, we moved on down the easy, relatively flat, wide trail to the point.

The hike down from the bluff top is precarious. This is certainly not accessible by any wheeled vehicle - no strollers, no bikes, no wheelchairs. People with canes are unlikely to want to attempt it, nor are people with balance issues. I hiked ahead of the littlest kids in case they lost their footing. I figured my footing was pretty darn good, and my weight would offset their willowy builds should they come tumbling my way.

On the beach, we enjoyed a fantastic afternoon of picnicking, playing and some of the best tidepooling we've experienced in the county.

If you go, keep a very close watch on children and be aware that dangers abound: the tide can trap you on this beach, waves can knock you off the tide pool rock area, the rocks there are very sharp and there are steep drops into the water from the tide pools. The surf here can be very heavy and there's lots of wildlife.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Crochet for Kids

Late last spring, E got involved in crochet. She's loved fiber arts (or just fibers) since she was a toddler, learned to spin cotton balls into string when she was 5 and started spinning on a drop spindle the same year. Grandma taught her to knit a couple of years later, and she became quite proficient. But crochet is her newest thing - and she's excelling.

In addition to help from friends, we've found some nice resources at the library and online. E says the best book for beginners is "Chicks with Sticks Guide to Crochet."  She said it's also good for patterns as are her two other favorites, "Learn to Crochet" by Sue Whiting and "Doilies in Color."

Online, we've found an AMAZING community of helpful, creative folks at Ravelry. It's free to sign up, and there are LOADS of ideas and plenty of helpful hints and straight-up tutorials there. Forgot how to cast-on? Click! We also love the YouTube community for directions.

To crochet, you need only one crochet hook and yarn. We started with lower-quality (ie. cheaper) polyester yarn that we could abuse, but you can start with anything. E has used everything from wool she gathered (from sheep shearing at La Purisima Mission), washed, carded and spun herself to
beautifully roved wool from Yarns at the Adobe, a nice yarn shop with friendly staff in SLO. She's also been working her way through a great bin of yarn gifted to her by a fellow Sweet Adeline. Some of it was vintage wool complete with the original 1950s tags. VERY cool!

Crochet projects including casting on, crocheting, and casting off.

First, cast on:

Then crochet your pattern. There's single crochet:

Or you might want to go with double crochet:

When you have the piece you'd like, you'll need to "cast off" or "bind off:"
Happy Hooking!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Away to Morro Bay

V and I got away to Morro Bay while E was attending classes at the local community college for a few weeks this summer. It's a nice, quiet, little beachfront town that always offers cool weather and wildlife viewing.

V and I are really into the beaches. We like the long sandy stretch just north of Morro Rock, though we don't swim here. Surfers come out during good surf days and take advantage of the rip tide near the rock that pulls them back out for another ride. This isn't the beach to visit if basking in the sun on a warm day is your style. This is a windy beach great for kite flying, walking, running and, on our visits recently, sand dollar hunting.

We spent the majority of the rest of our time in the marina. We walked the boardwalk and decks that run along the marina and enjoyed visiting with neighborhood pelicans and watching young seagulls communicate with their helicopter parents. The "glass"-bottom boat offering underwater tours was enticing, but took a peek and you really can't see very far past the glass. If a seal were to swim RIGHT up to the glass, we might be able to see it. Still, I think we'll try this at some point soon. We'd also like to rent a kayak and take a spin around the marina, and maybe explore the sand spit on the other side. (Mr. B and I walked the whole spit from Montana de Oro State Park to the south, but it's a VERY long haul, particularly for little legs).

There's no shortage of dining opportunities in Morro Bay. V and I found fish n' chips ('cause there's just SOMETHING about being near the ocean that REQUIRES that) at a cute surf shack featuring fun surfer music from throughout "the ages."

V thrives on one-on-one time. I think we'll need to focus on that a bit more.

When Visitors Come to Call

One of the greatest things about our move has been the increase in visitors to our place. Not only do they share in our excitement, but they help us build new memories that make this house seem more like home.

It started with the friends who helped us move, the family who arrived immediately thereafter, a visit from more family that following weekend to help unpack boxes, and friends who wandered by in the following weeks. Our housewarming/farmwarming was an amazing success, particularly considering most of our friends now live 40 to 60 miles away and it was raining like crazy - folks got lost, put up with poor visibility and still made it out here. Nothing makes a person feel more special than when others make SUCH an effort just to share space!

We've also been blessed with many overnight visitors including our cousins from England for a portion of Easter week, our first overnight stay from some of the girls' cousins, stays by the girls friends and my own long-time friends' children. Grandparents have come for stays and my own cousin and aunts have come to visit for a night or more.

I'm not a great hostess. I don't have a lot of practice at it. It's difficult for me to drop the laundry list of everyday chores and new chores to completely focus on my guests, and I'm not sure enlisting guests is really considered "good hostess" work. But I do thank my English cousin for helping us to build fence, grandparents for helping to clean up the farm and move in, aunts for helping to decorate, and cousins for helping train the horses during their stays.

What do you think makes a good hostess? Do you need one-on-one attention throughout your stay? Do you like being left to your own devices now and again? How do you feel about picking up a project when you're visiting a friend/family member?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ponds and Frogs and Other Things

About a quarter mile from our house is a nice little pond that the neighbors have graciously invited us to enjoy at our leisure. The girls and I have been over a few times, but try not to wear out our welcome.

We were introduced to the pond by one of the families who owns the place and particularly enjoyed frogging along the banks with their kids. The pond predates the current owners, and the previous owner, and a recent cleanout revealed that it is quite deep. It spreads nicely up its inlets in the spring, and by now has settled into a fairly oval hole. The outlet looks like it has been aligned with a natural outcropping of granite - nice planning on someone's part.

With no fish in the pond, there are countless frogs/toads. They're among the largest I've ever seen. V particularly enjoys catching them, though has had her greatest luck in the evening with the neighbor's kids guiding her. They have a lot more experience with the local setup. As we walk the edges of the pound, the frogs let out little froggy screams, then leap into the water leaving a splash that rivals the wake of a duck's landing wake.

We swam in the pond earlier in the season, when the water was fresh and new, but with no fresh water entering the pond, and none leaving, and an ecosystem that exists almost solely of frogs and the bugs they can't catch, it's become a little less inviting at this point in the season. Sure, it's been well above 100 for more than a week now, but we have our limits.

Someday we'd like to get the old pond here back in order. It's on the long list of some-day items, each of which comes with a financial cost as well as a time commitment. We're knocking it down one paycheck at a time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Live Oak Music Festival: Hippy Fun for the Family

Ever since 2002, with the exception of one year, the girls and I have enjoyed Father's Day weekend at Live Oak Music Festival near Santa Barbara. I considered skipping it this year due to finances, but thanks to their volunteer work-trade offerings, we were able to return to the three-day eclectic music fest. The girls earned their ticket by doing odd jobs around the farm. I earned my ticket by working several hours over the course of the weekend building marshmallow guns with Live Oak kids. The festival is well worth the effort, if you don't mind a crowd and the sounds of people having a good time.

Having attended several years, not being a big fan of heat or crowds, and having just moved, I was almost ready to skip this year, but when I mentioned that option to the girls, they were beside themselves. While most other offerings these days bring little reaction from them, Live Oak is a favorite. They love running the dirt roads with glow sticks and passels of kids who may or may not have showered, brushed their hair or even slept in the past two days. They sing songs and play games with Live Oak Friends - kids from throughout the U.S. who gather here every year. I love to watch them enjoy themselves.

This year's added fun came with a new group of kids who found our very public camping spot at a main intersection in the campground. I gave the kids some room by heading into the trailer for awhile, windows open, while they played guitar and visited outside. At one point, I heard one of the boys egging on another.

"What did you say?" he chided.

"I said, 'I like her. I mean I like-like her. I'm not afraid to say it,'" the second answered as he sat next to my pre-teen.

"Ah-hahahaha! DUDE! Her mom's RIGHT THERE," howled the first.

I'm not sure my girls were even aware what the joke was all about.

My new favorite young man turned to me sheepishly, then hid his head in a towel.

"Why are you embarrassed," I asked through the window. "So you like a girl. That's perfectly normal! It's the decisions you make from there that matter to me."

He unwrapped his head, beamed and cheered, "You're the BEST mom, EVER!"

I think we might survive this phase.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Special People - Auntie M

She heard about the spiders, the snakes, the rodents and the heat. She doesn't like spiders. She sure doesn't like snakes. Rodents give her the heebie-jeebies. And heat has never been a friend to any of us. Yet she shared her limited time to venture south into the heat and wilds to share in our joy of place.

Thank you, Auntie M. We love you!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Spider Law on the Farm

Most spiders and I seem to have an understanding: you stay outside, you stay alive. A rare few don't speak my lingo. These find themselves on the losing end of the paper towel, book or shoe. The rule hasn't changed since we've
moved to the country. The spiders are just bigger here. Here's a sample of one of our summertime temporary guests. He's curled up after the deadly strike-by-shit-kicker, but you get the idea.
Sure, spiders serve a purpose. They catch any number of other insects or bugs that mysteriously find their way into the house despite the window and door screens. And I do make exceptions for the Daddy Long Legs the family hasn't yet spotted, particularly since learning that the story about their highly poisonous venom is a myth.

We also have tarantulas here. I don't know if they'll bother with squeezing into the house come fall mating/migration season. And I'm not sure I could bring myself to stick with my death-sentence standard. We've found the tarantulas fairly mellow. Maybe arming myself with a large cup for capturing and moving them will work.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Discovering New Places: The Grandmother Tree, Los Osos

As the author of "Best Family Adventures," a series detailing the family-friendly venues and events throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, it isn't often that I'm introduced to a new-to-me place. Thanks to friends, we were treated with a new adventure this summer: the Grandmother Tree in Los Osos.

Locals know the tree as "the place where the teenagers drink beer," "the smoking tree," or "Grandmother Tree." We've passed it many times in our adventures exploring Morro Bay's "back bay." But from the outside it looked like one of any of a number of beautiful trees in the area.

Enter friends in the know.

During a hike up Montana de Oro State Park's Coon Creek Trail to the Mother Tree, we got to talking about our favorite climbing trees, reading trees, shade trees. The Grandmother Tree was mentioned and I was ENTIRELY in the dark. What to do....what to do.

With plenty of time on our hands, we wrapped up our Coon Creek adventure, then headed to the friends' house to pick up their family dog and head out for a walk. VoilĂ !

Thank you, Friends, for introducing us to a fabulous climbing space, reading space and relaxing space. We look forward to visiting our new favorite tree again soon. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Farm Swaps - Lemons and Eggs

CHECK out these LEMONS! WOW!

Sometimes we have plenty. Sometimes we have more than plenty. Sometimes our overabundance lines up with someone else's need at JUST the right time to make a perfect swap. Such was the case with our lemon shortage/egg surplus.

Enter Craigslist and a local gardener who had an abundance of lemons. He hated to see them go to waste. We had an overstock of farm-fresh, free-range chicken eggs. This combined surplus/shortage made for a perfect swap. Two dozen eggs provided us enough lemon juice to provide lemonade for a little over a month.

Now we're out.

Time for another swap.

Eggs anyone?

On Cats, Gophers and Fairy Wings

Snakes are all and good on a farm, but kitties are so much more cuddly and, I'm told, can make great rodent repellent if not deterrent. To that end, we've adopted three kitties whose jobs it will be to live outside and keep away the pests.

I'm a big fan of animal shelters and adopting pets there, but these kittens were found even more locally; an unwanted litter nearby. We were initially going to take the full litter (five), but when we arrived for pickup, the owner couldn't part with them all. She kept two tortoise shells for herself, and sent us off with a grey, a tabby and a tortoiseshell.

So far, the growing kittens have nearly mastered bug catching and the related fine art of bug eating: peel off the bothersome wings, tear off the crunch little legs, snake on the head, then feast on the abdomen. So very nice of them to leave the wings behind for us to find like some sort of fairy Armageddon.

This spring I had my own first-hair-critter kill with the trapping of gophers that had been plaguing the garden. I tossed the first one (in June) out to Blue, the grey kitty. He had a field day with the carcass before finally settling on leaving it to the birds. More recently, the kitties have discovered that dead gopher tastes pretty good. All they leave behind are the teeth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beyond the Farm: Climbing the Walls

While E discovered theatre, V discovered the climbing walls at SLO-OP Climbing Gym in San Luis Obispo. The gym is open 24 hours (with key card) to paying members, and open to the general public during some evening hours. We discovered it while researching updates for "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County - SECOND edition."

The gym has been a great, relatively safe play place for V while E attended college and theatre programs in town this summer. The climbers are largely young folks who are eager to share their knowledge with young folks like her. V will continue as long as she likes since we still head in to town regularly for E's dance rehearsals (in addition to shopping and social visits). And if E stops dancing, we may just have to switch the tables, or buy E a membership as well.

I probably should join, too. I feel like a slug sitting there while she and other fit folks climb. But there is a fee involved, and we're trying to balance ourselves. I choose to use my "climbing" funds and any additional funds toward that end at this point. The girls, however, are welcome to explore to the best of our financial ability.

California King Snake: Friends on the Farm

When we moved here in February, we began meeting locals who offered several warnings. For the most part, these were scary reminders about the plagues of rattle snakes, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes who lived here long before we did.

"They come out in DROVES!"
"They get in the HOUSE!"
"The snakes CHASE you!"

Thankfully, people tend to exaggerate.

Sure, we do have these creatures around us. We hear the coyotes partying every night. But I've spent a lifetime camping this county and have seldom seen any of them. Why expect anything different now? And why did I allow these people to scare me?

In the spring, we did spot some snakes: a baby gopher snake which had JUST done its job on a gopher nest; a large gopher snake that hung out near the horsey area; and a VERY large gopher snake that wandered from the house to the well house.

In June, I spotted two California King Snakes including this one which arrived at our back door.
The girls would love to catch the snakes and play with them, but I pointed out that these types of snakes are our friends. They don't like to be caught and played with, and I hope if we leave them unmolested, they'll hang out and help make our place a safer, cleaner place to live. (Gopher snakes do, indeed, eat gophers and other rodents. California King Snakes can and will eat rattle snakes in addition to rodents and anything else it can constrict.)

We've seen evidence of two bobcats: a young one hit and dead on the road about 1/2 mile from the house; a young one long-dead near the neighbor's pond. We know the mountain lions are here, and Mr. B spotted on crossing the road about 7 miles away late one night the first week we were here. While they're magnificent creatures, but for the safety of my family, I hope never to lay eyes on one (and I'll pretend they aren't watching us).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Horse Education on The Farm

I'm not sure who's learning more about life on a farm these days - the horses or me. Our younger mare seems to have a lot more background on all things natural. It only took her a couple of weeks to get used to frolicking up and down the hills and ravines of her pasture. Our older mare, however, is still learning, and largely learning the hard way.

With our younger mare, we've ridden trails, ridden arenas, trailered, even packed into the Sierra Nevada for several days. She'd originally come from ranch in Texas, but had been in pen/arena situations for the past several years. While she'd done some ranch work, she was largely used on flat land. That was made apparent by her stumblings around the new place for a few weeks while she got used to the place. Now, we regularly see her flee from her overnight pasture and on to grassier climes each morning. She doesn't amble, unless it's already hot out, but take off at a joyful gallop. She seems to know how to keep herself out of trouble, but is calm about it - when other horses act up, she doesn't flee; she just moves herself out of harm's way.

Following not too closely behind is her older new friend, an arthritic mare who joined us this past spring after a long history of show barns and arenas. We had no idea just how little experience she had with uneven surfaces until we got her home. She's big on stumbling, gets into trouble at every turn, but she's having the time of her life with her new pasture buddy. She still can't figure out how to just WALK down a hill. She'll stand at the top and wait for the rest of us to clear, then fast-walk/trot to the bottom, given a choice. And she'd rather run up a hill than do the hard work of walking. As for the zig-zag ascent so common with other herd animals, she's not a fan. And riding her downhill wile zig-zagging is like driving a motorboat too slowly - over correcting and feeling that constant sideways slide.

Since arriving here, the older mare has managed to catch herself in a bit of buried barbed wire with which she gashed a foreleg. We were able to provide her care at home, but it wasn't easy since she doesn't like her feet picked up. (We're working on that, as well.) Then there's the arthritis which allegedly slows her down, though you wouldn't know it if you saw morning turn-out. And shortly after her foreleg healed, she showed up with some sort of stings ALL over one side of her belly.

V and I had bathed and fly-sprayed the horses just the day before. While I was checking the chickens late the following evening, the horses galloped down the hill for a visit in the moonlight. I noticed some odd spots on the old mare's side. But it was super dark, I couldn't see well, so I figured it was just a rub mark - her clean hair rubbed in muck somewhere that day as only clean animals can do. The next morning, I found dinner-plate-sized welts on her side and some tea-plate sized welts on her neck. Clearly, she'd been stung; and more than once. But she didn't seem to be having any other adverse reactions.

Several days later I called our new vet. (We've yet to meet her, but she came highly recommended by our old vet who we adored for his cool manner and educational style. She shares his style including a you-don't-really-need-me mantra when she can educate and coach via phone at no charge. Yep...this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.) There was a very large "welt" on the mare's belly, and the hair on the side welts was rubbed entirely off.

"Oh, yep. Those were stings or bites for sure," she said. Then proceeded to explain how the histamine response that caused the swelling (edema) meant that fluid had to go somewhere. In horses, it'll pool along the belly line if it doesn't get absorbed faster than it can fall. She recommended we treat the bald spots (itchiness causes that) with regular hydro cortisone from our own first aid kit. Go figure. A simple solution! We sat tight for another couple of days and, sure enough, the belly jelly was gone.

So, bees or wasps, hills and side hills, barbed wire (really! We thought we'd found it all!). The old mare's getting some special education out here for sure while the youngster stays out of trouble, for now.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: "Maximum Ride, Book two, School's out -Forever," by James Patterson

Book Review by V, age 9:
Maximum is on the run again, trying to figure out who their real parents really are.

The Flock  --  Maximum (Max or Maximum Ride), Fang (who is very silent), Nudge (who talks a lot), Iggy (who is blind), Gasman (Gazzy), Angel (who reads minds and is devoted to her teddy bear, Celeste), and the talking dog, Total, all of whom had bird DNA grafted into them when they were babies so they have wings --  is flying towards Washington DC when it is suddenly attacked by flying Erasers, wolf-human hybrids. Fang  gets injured badly during the attack, and has to go to the hospital. Once there, they meet a nice lady named Anne, who invites them to her house for the night. Of course that would be too easy for Maximum, wouldn't it?

I think this is a good book for readers ages 9 and older, because the Erasers are rather brutal, scary and mean, and there IS a goodly amount of foul language like "stupid," "freaking," and "damn."
I really like this book because it is interesting all the way through. Full of adventure, with so many twists and turns,  you can never be quite sure what will come next.

 This is the second book in the series, so be sure to read the first "Maximum Ride" which is called just, "Maximum Ride", before this book, or you will be completely lost and confused when you read this book.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Homeschool Standards - Choosing a Path

One of the most frequent concerns I hear about homeschooling (after socialization issues) pertains curriculum standards. What curriculum do we use? What standards do we follow? Do we take standardized tests? Well, it's that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school, and after our long summer break, we're diving in as well. Let me share our planning technique.

We begin our planning with the understanding that we homeschool not to provide a narrower vision of the world, but a broader view of the world than any brick-and-mortar school can provide. We are not limited by political norms or corporate sponsorships. Because we receive no tax funding to provide our children's education, we are not beholden to report test reports to those funding agencies. We homeschool to allow our children more free time to explore their interests and the world in which they live. We homeschool because we enjoy the time we spend with our children. (OK, if you're a follower of this blog, you'll know this only is true MOST of the time.)

So, our school-year moves on to the next stage: incorporating California State Standards. Why, you ask, given that California ranked 30th among the nation's schools in a 2011, 47th for student achievement? Because were our children to head to school tomorrow, they'd be heading for a California school. Being prepared for school in Montana or England or Germany does not mean they'd blend in well here, so we want to make sure they're prepared for the local standard. But that's only a beginning.

Thanks in no small part to the advent of the internet, we also have at our fingertips other standards including standards from top-ranked states (for science and math) or even other nations. Since we hope our girls are on the college track (both have been talking about their college futures for years now) we can also look further down the road and examine college-bound test standards. Which states perform highest on the SAT? Or the ACT? Or both?  Of course, testing and ranking is hardly the litmus test for education programs. (State SAT rankings are worse than meaningless, say Ball State experts). But with this basic information in hand, we can choose the state standards that we feel will better meet our family needs.

Why limit ourselves to U.S. standards? I've found Canadians and British to be, on the whole, far more literate than too many Americans; Germans more literate and analytical; and we've read countless news reports about the superior math performance from our Asian counterparts. What are they doing that the U.S. is not? Some answers may be found in their curriculum standards (for example, Canada or even Japan if your Japanese is great), but we also know education is as much, if not more, about environment and culture. In Korea, it is said children spend full days in school, then attend post-school academic study sessions until 10 p.m. six days per week.

Is academic success all we want from our children's education? Certainly not. We focus on Joie de vivre as well. This is a key subject area of our homeschool curriculum, and it is easily incorporated in our life skills studies. While it's all well and good to pass a chemistry test with flying colors, to be at the top of your class in your spelling skills and to be able to perform rote math, there's a lot to be said for knowing how to take care of yourself and your family, the food-safe science behind culinary arts that keep yourself and your family food-safe and fed. We can build models of the solar system and learn to crochet. We make time for drawing architectural designs, then building them in the real world to experience structural failures and successes firsthand.

This year, for the first time in their education careers, the girls will sit down with me to help hammer out school year plans. E is in middle school grades now, so it's time for her to take more control of her education. These should be her goals, not mine. And V will get in on the act because younger siblings come along for the ride. We'll combine standardized initiatives with personal initiative, and I hope some real-life projects can bridge the gap between paper standards and lifelong lessons.

Friday, August 10, 2012

On Spoiling Our Children

My girls never really went through the Terrible Twos. They were adorable, agreeable little kids. (No. Really!) It seems instead they saved it all up for the Non-cooperative Nines and the Temperamental Twelves. The result: I feel disrespected, unappreciated and, at times, entirely unwanted. Apparently, I'm not alone.

The internet (and even old-school print publications) are full of advice for parents of spoiled children, disrespectful children, demanding children. And from what I've read, unless there's a psychological disorder, chances are really good we, as parents, not our children are to blame. Anthropological studies of families from a variety of cultures show American children as a whole are the least respectful, most demanding, least helpful children on the planet. Sure, there are exceptions, but few, if any, compare with children from tribal nations where even the youngest members of the community are given responsibility for meaningful tasks early in life. This sense of importance carries on through childhood and into adulthood. The best article I've found on the topic is Elizabeth Kolbert's "Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?" printed here in The New Yorker.

As I look at what I'm doing for my children, I see that it's true that they are spoiled. As am I. This past winter, we moved to a spacious home in the country - a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. (I also thought it was my children's dream, but have learned a few things since the move.) My husband works diligently, day in and day out to help make this dream come true. I'm working more to help pay for the added expenses of living on property formerly left largely unmaintained, and for the extras like ballet for one daughter, a climbing gym membership for the other, and in no small part the fuel to get in and out of town for these activities.

And what do our children do to earn these honors? They wake in the morning. They breathe. They ask and, when we can, we provide. Their chores are limited to personal hygiene. In return, I expect (but don't receive) unconditional cooperation when I ask for help around the house.  And while I've tried to instill a regular chore schedule with them, I've failed to be consistent with it because, I suppose, I'm just worn down. These sulky looks, these angry eyes, these long exasperating sighs and grunts - I let them all get to me at some point. And I'm the only "bad guy" in our house. I'm here all the time, so I'm the law. Doing projects with the law is no fun.

What would make this easier? Having only one child, for sure. It's difficult to ground one or punish one while also honoring the obligations of the other. Tomorrow, one girl is grounded but the other has a performance. I'm the only taxi driver. If one child is misbehaving and the other is golden, do we cancel our beach plans and punish the good child as well (and the beleaguered mother)? Again, the internet steps in to assure me I'm not alone here.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm going to return to our earlier days of shared responsibility in the kitchen and throughout the house. After the performance wraps up this weekend, no child will be signing up for extracurricular activities until we get priorities here at home straightened out. And I'm going to try to remember to keep my cool as they grunt and whine and carry on. It's for the good of us all.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to (home)school?

The dog days of summer are upon us: hot days, warm nights, last-blast summer vacations and, yes, planning for another academic. It's true. Many homeschooling families actually do plan their academic year. And the 'net is bustling with homeschool planning activities.

I've written about various aspects of homeschooling past from legal concerns (here), social concerns and others (here), favorite early education links (here), favorite reading-related links (here), holiday curriculum links (here), some fun geography links (here), and what it looks like when a day just falls together (here),

In an effort to help others looking into alternative schooling resources here on the Central Coast, I've compiled some information I hope will serve. Alternative Education Resources on the Central Coast will be expanded and edited as needed, and may include information outside the area as well. There is also helpful general information links regarding alternative schooling including homeschooling, unschooling, charter schools, private schools and particularly unique public school programs.

I recently was made aware of MyTech High, an online high school option. I really don't know how it differs from K-12 (or in California, California Virtual Academy), or Stanford's Online High School or Laurel Springs or any number of others. But it's important to know these options are available to everyone, some to people who are well monied, others free of charge.

I know. It seems odd to be offering our children online courses. My girls, now nine and 12, will not be taking online courses this year, but perhaps they are in their future. They are, after all, part of this new, technological generation. And chances are really good that no matter where they choose to seek their  higher education, they'll be taking some of those courses online. And why wait until college? Some of the world's most-prestigious universities are already offering online, open education FREE! Check out MIT's open courses, or Yale's. NYU offers it as does Harvard, and the United Kingdom's Open University. Are they all great courses? Master courses? Probably not. But there's a lot of education available out there, whether it's via the brick-and-mortar library, the neighbor, the school around the corner or the university around the world.

Home education is daunting to many considering the option. What does it look like? What are my options? Will my kids learn from me? Am I making the right decision? There are countless answers to each of these questions, and the internet is full of them. Here are some blog posts that may provide a glimpse into the array of options:
Hyperventilating Homeschooler
A Guide to Choosing Homeschool Curriculum
Starting School with Multiple Grades
The Classic Housewife's Curriculum Plan
On Being Black and Homeschooling
One Journey with Charlotte Mason

Be brave! Jump in! The water's fine!

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