Archive for May, 2013

May 30, 2013

Making Memories

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 29, 2013.

My husband and I are getting a kick out of watching Everybody Loves Raymond on Netflix. Not only is the show’s audience geared to families with young children such as ours, we have quite a bit in common with Raymond’s family, including having in-laws of European descent.

Recently we watched an episode when the overworked and exasperated wife of Raymond yells at him for not spending enough time with the kids. She tells him that he should be part of their children’s childhood memories and ends her lecture by yelling, “Put those golf clubs down and make some damn memories!”

Moms desperately want what’s best for our kids, but we aren’t always able to live up to the ideal mom who never gets frustrated and never yells. Sometimes I worry about the mom that my children will remember.

Will they remember me as a cheerful mom who liked to play Trouble, create scavenger hunts and paint pictures with them? Will they remember me as the mom who was hopeless in the kitchen and heated up frozen pizza more than I care to admit? Will they remember a tired, grumpy mom, or worse, a mom who kept saying, “I’ll be there in a minute,” but really took fifteen minutes to finish her work on the computer.

“You’re always on the computer,” my son said once. Ouch.

Then I tried to think back to my childhood.  Don’t I have good memories? I vividly remember the bad things like my parent’s divorce or losing friends at school who found buddies they thought made a better friend than me. Where are my good memories? My tired brain searched. Why is it so much easier to remember the bad stuff?

But then I found them, smiling behind the murky clouds of a normal kid’s up and down life.

I remember my mom buying me a pet parakeet, and I named him Bo. We kept his cage in the corner of the sunroom, and I tried to teach him how to say “hello.”

Sometimes my mom would let me bring him into the master bedroom where we’d lay on my parent’s king size bed to watch T.V. together. We’d let him fly free through the room, and he loved to sit up on the chain of a hanging lamp. Then we would pat the bed, and say, “Come here. Come here.” He would fly down to the bed and prance around between us.

I was never able to teach him how to say “hello,” but he learned to say “come here.” He lived for 12 years too.

I also remember my mother tickling me on that giant bed, and I remember listening to her read Helen Keller. I remember the afternoon she picked me up from school and handed me a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, which she bought just for me because she knew I loved it.

I also remember my mom warming my jackets by an electric heater before I walked out into the freezing Colorado snow to catch the bus, and I remember the extra special prom dresses that she spent way too much money on, but I appreciated that so much.

I can remember not understanding why my mom would sigh so much every time I interrupted her (oh I understand now!), but I also remember her smile.

Nowadays I try to remember not to beat myself up when my son complains that I’m not at his beckon call. After all, he tends to forget that I spend several hours with him and his brother every morning doing school or his self-initiated projects or sometimes playing games.

He forgets that I often spend the evenings outside with him in the garden and watching him play and that every night I lay with him for half an hour to chat and tell stories. He doesn’t know that usually when I’m at my computer I’m either planning or recording our days together.

When he’s an adult, I’m hoping his long-term memory will be better than his short-term memory is now. I don’t want him to remember me as a perfect mom, but I hope he’ll think back and remember that I tried my best, and I liked cooking up a lot of fun too.

How do you think your children will remember you?

May 28, 2013

Marking the End of the Year – Do Homeschoolers Really Have To?

For parents whose children are in school, the beginning of summer can cause mixed emotions. Suddenly your children are at home full-time, and your uninterrupted time during the day is over. For homeschoolers, there is usually no change in routine, though some parents may go lighter on the school work during the summer or cease altogether.

Having grown up going to traditional school, it’s in my psyche to mark the beginning and end of each year. That’s why recently I decided that I would look over my son’s progress, decide on a stopping point and give him a Kindergarten graduation during the first week of June – right before the summer camps begin. (Summer camps make our summers the busiest time of the year.)

As soon as I put this self-imposed deadline on myself, I felt my blood pressure rise. To “finish” school work that’s ongoing, and to put together the slideshow and progress report that I like to have ready for our “graduation” on top of all my other household, childcare and writing that I do – that’s a lot. I don’t take many breaks as it is. If anything, sitting down to write my column is a break, but it’s just different work. For a stay-at-home mom, “different” and “sitting quietly” can sometimes feel restful, but not always.

I’m getting better at realizing when I’m being stupid. Almost as soon as I started to feel overwhelmed by all that extra “work,” I stopped it and then some. I took my first break from writing my column (ever), and I stopped worrying about doing a Kindergarten graduation. I’ll still do one, but it’ll be whenever – June or July – who cares? Because…

We’re homeschoolers!  This is one of the reasons I wanted to homeschool – for the flexibility and relaxed lifestyle.

How relaxed is it if I keep giving myself deadlines? I’m not a lazy person. I get an amazing amount of work done. I don’t need to make it worse by adding my own deadlines.

So eventually I’ll write our end of the year review, about my record keeping this year, and about our Kindergarten graduation, but it’s not going to happen all at once. It’ll happen when it happens.

But guess what? Since I took away my “deadline” I have actually made very good progress on some of these goals. Yep, things get done well even when you impose a relaxed and easy manner.

Note: If you’re looking for ideas about how you can mark the end of your school year, you might want to refer to the post I wrote last year about our pre-Kindergarten graduation. I’ll be doing something similar this year when we get around to it.

However, you don’t have to do any of that. Do it if you want to. (I like stuff like this.) Do it if you think your children would enjoy it. But the purpose of homeschooling should be to create the life you want for yourself and your family. 

Don’t mark occasions that would add more stress to your life. Mark the occasions that celebrate the life you’re living.

I challenge you to get rid of those self-imposed deadlines and relax…about everything! And then come tell me about it. :)

May 23, 2013

Garden Inheritance

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 22, 2013.

When I was a young girl I came to Georgia to visit my grandmother who lived in Athens. She kept a little red watering can just for me because I loved to help her water her plants. She lived in an apartment, but it had a courtyard where she grew flowers. Red geraniums were her favorite.

I used to love walking with her to Charmar nursery where I was enchanted with the rows and rows of plants inside the long greenhouse. Once she bought a little green fern for me, and I took it home on the airplane.

When we lived in Colorado, our house had a sunroom, and my mother filled it with Scheffleras, spider plants and jades.  I remember watching my father tend the garden that ran along the back fence. In my childhood memory that garden was very big, but it was probably just a modest house garden.

During my year in Japan, I had a very tiny apartment, but it had a small balcony, so it seemed natural to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and fill it with greenery. It was the least I could do to improve the view of the parking lot.

Now my children have inherited this love of plants and gardening. My six-year-old saves the seeds from his mandarins and apples and wants to plant them to see if they’ll grow. He found a half-sprouted acorn in the yard, so now we have a hardwood tree growing in a pot despite the fact that we have more than enough growing in our yard.

Every night he faithfully waters our garden where we planted green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few herbs. He likes watering our flowers in the front yard too, but I always offer to help because I don’t want it to become a chore for him.

My three-year-old loves to water and plant too.  One afternoon he carried seeds around from some plant found in the woods. His grubby little hands offered them to me, and they ended up in the cup holder of my chair. He, too, has an acorn growing in a pot, thanks to the help of his older brother.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping business, and she taught my son how take a cutting from the butterfly bush. Cut off one of the new shoots, strip the bottom leaves and cut the top leaves in half. Put the remaining part into a small pot with some seed starter mix, keep it moist and in a sunny spot.  Now my son is pulling the new leaves off the bush to try it himself. Come here in a few years, and you’ll probably find our yard full of purple butterfly bushes.

I’m making no attempts to stop my budding gardeners even though a landscaper might cringe at our attempts to grow full-sun plants in the shade or crowd the flowers together. My education in gardening has been through trial and error, and my sons are following in my footsteps.

Whenever I watch my three-year-old stoop over to water a pot with his blue watering tin, I think about the little red one I had at my grandmother’s. I think she would be pleased that I’m still outside planting, watering, and growing seeds. Someday I’ll have to take my boys on a trip to a big greenhouse too.

May 21, 2013

Inspire Kids: Space Oddity

Okay, so I know you’ve already seen this. It’s gone viral, and it’s been in the news. But how could I not add it to my Inspire Kids series? Chris Hadfield has been a wonderful role model for children by creating all sorts of YouTube videos during his five months as commander of Expedition 35 at the International Space Station. I posted one in my Inspire Kids already that I especially like, and you can find more on YouTube.  Both of my sons loved watching this as I’m sure everyone has.

The vocals were really recorded in space! This is his version of David Bowie’s 1969 “Space Oddity.”

He just returned to Earth last week. Thanks for all your hard work, Commander Hadfield.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines You can view all of our Inspire Kids videos by clicking on the Inspire Kids tag. If my six-year-old likes it, then maybe your children will too!

May 14, 2013

Worthy Reads



**Attention Georgia Homeschoolers: No more attendance forms for Georgia homeschoolers – – Whoot!

This One’s For the Homeschool Moms: Mercy’s Story – Homeschoolers Anonymous – An important read for all homeschooling moms.

Just the Facts: The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling – CBS Sacramento

Why I Homeschool – – A great article that my friend sent to me. I think many of us must feel this way! It’s a secret you only realize once you start homeschooling.

THE REGULARS: Growing number of Americans choose to homeschool – Sioux City Journal

Homeschooling Resources

The Making of a Wizard & The Crafty Side of Math – Blog, She Wrote – A very good post about using math while doing project-based homeschooling.

How to Practice Spelling with Kinesthetic Learners – Smallgood Hearth


How to get the most from MOOCs – Money Magazine via CNN Schools of Thought

Teachers in Their Own Words: “Learning is Natural. School is Optional.” – Kids in the system

Only 150 of 3500 U.S. Colleges Are Worth the Investment: Former Secretary of Education – Yahoo Finance


Kids of Tiger Moms Are Worse Off – Yahoo! Shine

Have American Parents Got It All Backwards? – Huffington Post

May 9, 2013

Raising Butterflies

Scroll down for a slideshow of our butterfly’s life cycle!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 8, 2013.

Last year we raised toads from tadpoles, and this year we’re raising butterflies. This is surprisingly easy to do, and I’d encourage any family to give it a try.  It’s a wonderful experience for children and adults.

My sons received the Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat as a Christmas present, but you can find other companies who sell butterfly habitats and the larvae online. The cages are around $15. The Backyard Safari Habitat came with a coupon so that we could order the larvae when we were ready for them. You need to wait for warm weather, if you plan to release the butterflies. (The larvae were approximately $10 with the coupon, but they are under $20 without it.)

We received six Painted Lady larvae (or caterpillars) in a small container with everything they needed to survive during this second stage of their life cycle. There were explicit instructions to not open the container. All we needed to do was set the container by a window (but not in direct sunlight). Note: I have read different opinions about leaving them in the container, so I suggest you do some of your own research.

Painted Lady Butterflies live almost everywhere, which is why they are often used in schools and homes for this purpose. In most places it’s okay to release them back into the environment. Another option is to find butterfly larvae in your local area and raise them, but each species has different needs, so you have to make sure you have the right food source.

We watched our caterpillars for less than two weeks as they stirred up the food, spun silk, and proved to be extremely bad housekeepers. When we got them, they were less than a centimeter in length, and in two days, they doubled their size. Right before they formed themselves into a chrysalis (or pupa), they were about an inch long and quite plump.

After the butterflies emerged, my son turned this into a project by making a model of the Painted Lady Butterfly! He studied it like a real artist!

According to the instructions I received, the caterpillars were supposed to climb to the top of the vial and attach themselves to the gauze that was placed under the lid of the container. There they would hang down and form into chrysalides, and then we weren’t allowed to disturb the container for two days. After that time, we could carefully remove the lid, and then pin the gauze with the chrysalides near the bottom and on the wall of the cage.

This is what really happened: The caterpillars made a huge mess in the container, and we couldn’t see through it very well. All of the caterpillars crawled to the top, but most of them didn’t stay there. In the end, there were only two caterpillars that formed chrysalides and hung from the top. We could barely make out one chrysalis on the bottom, and since there wasn’t any movement, I assumed the others down there were changing too.

Per the instructions, we waited two full days after the last caterpillar we could see formed his chrysalis. Finally we got out the butterfly cage, and found a small branch that fit nicely into it. Then I removed the lid to the container, and we discovered that the caterpillars had eaten most of the gauze! The two chrysalides were hanging from silk and the plastic lid. Luckily I managed to fit it over the twigs in the cage so that they hung down safely.

I had to scoop out the four other chrysalides from the bottom of the container with a spoon, and I laid them gently on the bottom of our cage. We had read that this can happen, and they should be okay, but unfortunately, two of these never formed into butterflies. We weren’t surprised.

After only five days, two of our butterflies emerged!  Two more butterflies emerged in the next few days.  They are beautiful, small orange and black butterflies, and we’re feeding them watermelon and oranges.

The whole process has enamored my six-year-old, and he wants to keep going, so we’re going to attempt to raise a second generation. Yep, call me crazy. If it turns into a good story, and I’m pretty sure it will, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Note: Yes, indeed, it’s turning into a story, and I will share it with you!

Below is a slideshow I created to show you our experience, and you can see the life cycle here too!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Notes you may be interested in:

  • The butterfly’s life cycle is in four stages: egg, larvae (or caterpillar), chrysalis, adult butterfly.  (I highly recommend the simple app Life Cycles by to help with learning about nature’s cycles!)
  • The plural for chrysalis can be either chrysalides or chrysalises. (You can go here to hear the pronunciations.)
  • The word eclose is a verb which means to emerge from the pupa as an adult or from an egg as a larvae.
  • The red liquid that drips out off the butterfly after it emerges is meconium or the waste that was secreted while it was in chrysalis.
  • After the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it can live for about two weeks. During that time, they seek a mate, and the female seeks a host plant to lay her eggs.

If you like this, you might enjoy the slideshow I made of our tadpoles to toads last year.

Have you raised butterflies? Please share your experience!

May 7, 2013

Embracing the Chaos, Part 2

{Creating a Welcoming Environment for Homeschooling}

When I wrote my column Embracing the Chaos, I intended to write a post more like this, but it took a life of its own, and it turned out to be a good column, so there you go – that’s how writing happens and that’s good. But now I’m following up with a this-is-my-chaos-and-how-I’m-handling-it-post.  I’m not offering any real organization tips because I don’t have those. I’m just winging it! If nothing else, I hope this post can give you solace as you work through your own chaos.

First of all, it’s important to remember that Chaos is Normal. Almost everybody, regardless of where they live or how they live, feels like life gets chaotic sometimes. (This is why some people move into monasteries.) I don’t have any scientific evidence for this, but I would bet my dollar that the people who are more willing and able to go with the flow handle chaos better. This will serve them very well when they have children, and even better if they decide to homeschool. But nobody, and I seriously doubt that anybody, can handle all kinds of chaos all of the time. We all have what we’re good at, and we all have those things that make us feel flustered and overwhelmed.

I’m kind of in the middle. I’m not a neat freak (anybody who has visited my house and seen my clutter can attest to this), but I also like to have a certain amount of organization. I’m always wishing I had more shelves and more closets and more drawers to put things. I wish I had the time to sort through my junk. I wish I could get away with throwing out my husband’s junk. You know what I mean.

But I don’t have money, time or a blind husband, so what I do is live with quite a bit of clutter, and I chisel away at it once in awhile. As the boys get older, I’ll be able to throw more things away. For example, I just recently took all the baby and toddler clothes to the thrift store! Yay! This has freed up space and boxes. So hang tight…just when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, your kids are going to outgrow one mess and then you can make room for another!

Space for Project-based Homeschooling

When I read Lori Pickert’s book on project-based homeschooling, I took note that one very important aspect of the Reggio educational philosophy is environment. Having a nice space for the kids to work in is crucial. I agree with that. Also, having all the supplies within reach and looking attractive is important too. How I would love that.

I’m very lucky that a few years ago, my husband agreed we needed a space for the homeschooling, so he and my father-in-law helped paint our never-used dining room and turn it into what I now call the “activity room.” (And thank you, Mom, for the table and chairs!) It’s in the heart of the house, and I know it couldn’t be anywhere else. If we had turned one of the rooms upstairs into an activity room, we’d never use it. The boys live and play most of the time downstairs. Having all educational tools and art supplies in the activity room has created an atmosphere where learning, creating and building is part of our livesjust like the T.V. is part of our lives! (Seriously, how many families have the television in the heart of their house, but they tuck the kid clutter into a back room? Why not also have the open-ended toys, art studio or science lab there too?)

Of course this means that the downstairs is going to get messy. Very messy. If you’re having trouble with that, then I suggest you read the original Embracing the Chaos.  

Despite my efforts, the activity room can get quite messy and disorganized, but this doesn’t stop the boys from being productive.

It’s hard to keep everything looking tidy and organized, especially the art supplies. Despite my laments, I do try to organize and clean up. Rearranging the shelves can be great for getting kids to notice things they haven’t used in awhile. But despite my upkeep, the place gets jumbled and cluttered. But here’s the good part:

I’ve noticed that even though the activity room is messy, the boys know where their art supplies are, and they can find them. The mess doesn’t stop my boys from being creative. In fact, my six-year-old’s creative mind has been exploding recently. He’s been doing so many projects that I can’t keep up with him. I spend most of my clean-up time just making space for the new mess.

Having the supplies accessible to the children is more important than having them in a specific place or shown attractively on the shelves.

The same goes for the supplies that can’t fit into the activity room. There’s not a lot of space in there, so we have junk supplies all over the house. For example, I keep a box of odd items on my closet shelf, which the boys know they can ask for; an armoire in my bedroom is home for the paints, games and some other art supplies; and building supplies are in my six-year-old’s closet upstairs. This stuff is scattered around the house, but the boys know where everything is, and if they can’t reach it, they can ask for it at any time. (However, I recommend keeping the main supplies out where kids can see them because anything tucked away can be forgotten. I only do this for overflow items.)

What’s funny is that the building supplies is trash. I taught my six-year-old how to recycle cereal boxes, toilet paper tubes, milk jugs, and other odd items. He caught on a little too well, and he began to save things without my noticing. Then I noticed trash recyclables falling out of his closet!  Now we have organized his building supplies into two big plastic boxes inside his closet, and he has explicit orders to not dig anything else out of the trash until he uses this stuff up! ;) (see picture below)

Yep, that’ll make a good story someday, but I’m still proud of his enthusiasm and willingness to see an object and say, “I’m going to make something with that.” My three-year-old has even caught on, and one day when he finished off a big goldfish cracker box, he wouldn’t let me throw it away. “I make somethin’ with that!” he said. “Oh yeah? What are you going to make?” I asked. “Bot!” he said. Sure enough, the next day he had me cutting it into half so that he could have a “boat,” and it even floated in the bathtub!

If our supplies weren’t at my boys’ fingertips, I’m not sure these creative juices would be flowing. When I get overwhelmed by the chaos, I remember that I’m more than willing to put up with it during this era of my life that will go by so quickly.

Upstairs vs. Downstairs

My boys do spend time upstairs, especially on rainy days, and it’s a welcome break for me when they decide to go up there. What’s my secret? I put lots of toys up there. The trucks, the noise makers, the billions of stuffed animals, and the little stuff that they rarely play with anymore. (I get a lot of protests from my idea of giving these things away, but someday I’ll achieve that goal.)

I try to keep toys downstairs such as blocks, Legos, pretend food and a small kitchen set, their overflowing box of animals and dinosaurs (which is what they play with the most), and a toy cash register. These are fun, but they’re open-ended, and they require a lot of imagination. Since we’re downstairs more often, the boys play with this stuff more. See where I’m going? Not that they don’t get imaginative with their cars and trucks, but those things that bleep and honk and play music so loudly, well, I just like them to be upstairs, if you know what I mean. These things do trickle downstairs, and that’s okay. I don’t make them stay upstairs, but when we get to a serious cleaning day, I’ll sort the toys this way, and put those things back upstairs.

How to Display the Artwork?

Left to right: My son’s treasures & projects are displayed in his room on our old changing table. A small dresser has become another display area. Recyclables, which will be used in future projects, are kept in his closet where he can reach them.

Any project that my sons make will stay in the activity room for a very short time. There’s not much room in there for displaying their projects. After the project is finished, if it’s three-dimensional, it’ll go upstairs in their room. In my six-year-old’s room, we converted our old diaper changing station into some shelves for him to display his work and treasures. Eventually his projects will either be thrown out or recycled (except for a few extra special ones). We take pictures of everything for a keepsakes.  My three-year-old doesn’t have a big collection of projects yet, so his stuff is on a small table in his room.

As for paintings and other two-dimensional artwork, we have one section of our kitchen wall that is designated as the “art gallery.”

So that’s the gist of it. I live in chaos, but I’m embracing it…kind of…at least until my boys move out! Now please tell me about your chaos and how you deal with it.

May 5, 2013

Breaks are Healthy and Necessary

Ahhh…I’m back!

I took a couple of weeks to stop writing, stop reading what’s new in the homeschooling world, and I did very little social media. I watched movies instead! My brain is thanking me for it. I highly recommend it too. Now I’m refreshed and I have more writing ideas, which I was lacking before I took the break.

I may be blogging less through the summer as I work on some other projects too, but I promise to post my weekly columns.

Sometimes you just gotta do something different.

What have you done differently lately?


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