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Totally tubular dinner

My apologies for the grumpiness of my last post.  Don has been gone all week for a conference, I woke up to a house that was 57 F because our furnace was acting up again, and I was not a happy camper.  Life is not really that bad.  In fact, since Peter started school, the weather has warmed up enough that I’m constantly freezing, and Simon has become potty-trained, I’m feeling rather liberated.

Anyhow, the point of this point is to share our special dinner for April, which we had last week.  I saw these rolled-up tortillas chips in the store and they inspired me to plan a meal of tube-shaped foods.  We had those tortilla chips with salsa as an appetizer, ziti and rigatoni as a main course, Go-Gurt (yogurt in plastic tubes) as a side, and filled cream horns for dessert.  We drink smoothies through straws (which are, of course, tubes).  I cut up a paper towel tube and Simon decorated the smaller tubes with markers and stickers to be napkin rings for our cloth napkins.  I found all kinds of neat craft ideas for toilet paper tubes online, but we only made two–a confetti shooter (which we actually forgot to use) and a little owl (which Simon loved because of its big googly eyes).  Now I feel deficient because I don’t have any pictures, but just know that it was cute.  I didn’t tell Don and Peter what the theme of the dinner was; I told them they had to figure it out.  It took a little while, but Don figured it out first.  All in all, it was a successful special meal.

Interminable winter

This is the view out my front window:

more snow 2

Yes, it’s April 22nd.  Most of the US is experiencing spring–warm weather, flowers, green grass, buds on the trees, all that good stuff.  And we’re having snow for the third day in a row.  We have had some warm weather–some very pleasant days in fact, leading to the melting of most of our long-accumulated snow.  But cruelly, the warm days don’t last.  They are interspersed with cold days, and right now we’re being tortured with more snow.

This has been such a long winter.  There’s the harshness of the weather that requires you to put on layers of protective clothing before you step out the door.  There are the hours and effort of the labor involved in shoveling, snowblowing, and plowing.  There’s the extra stress of driving in the snow.  There’s the discomfort of living in a poorly-insulated house and feeling like Sam McGee.  And there’s the stress of all the things that kept breaking on us–the used snowblower that Don bought, two different parts on our pellet stove, our dishwasher, our washing machine, our furnace.  I just want the winter to be over.  Unfortunately, I know that it’ll be back again all too soon.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.  –Eleanor Roosevelt

Today was Peter’s first day of fourth grade.  Yes, we’re done homeschooling.  We went in on Monday, picked up the paperwork, got a tour of the school, and met his new teacher.  The secretary told us that Tuesday was Family Science Night, so we went to that.  We got to see science fair projects and physics demonstrations by university students, and Don got to see the school.  Yesterday we went in to drop off the paperwork and ask a few questions, and we ended up going to the classroom with Peter’s teacher because we got there just before recess time.  She answered my questions, showed Peter where his coat and backpack would go, and gave him some math problems to solve on the board to get an idea of what he knew.  So he was at the school three days in a row before he started today, which I think made him feel more comfortable.  He knows at least four kids in his grade (though only one in his class; there are three fourth grade classes), as well as a few kids in other grades, through Cub Scouts and our neighbors, which also helps.

Don drove Peter today, just because it was his first day, and he rode the bus home.  He’s looking forward to riding the bus both ways tomorrow.  I appreciate the fact that the bus stop is in front of our next-door neighbor’s house and Peter is old enough that I don’t have to go out with him.  As long as he gets out the door on time, it’s easy for me.

Peter seems positive about his experience so far and the teacher wrote a note in his agenda that he had a good first day.  We’ll see how it goes once the novelty wears off.  I picked a Thursday start so that he could go for two days and then have a weekend to recover before having to go for a full week.  As it happens, he gets spring break after that full week, and then a four-day week when he returns.  So it won’t be until mid-April that he has a second full week of school.

The first three days of this week I was focused on getting everything ready for Peter–filling out paperwork, buying supplies, visiting the school, etc.  Now that he’s in school, I need to shift my focus to figuring out what Simon and I are going to do with ourselves during the day.  I certainly haven’t been neglecting Simon, but I haven’t given him as much attention as I would have liked.  We’ll do more preschool-type things and more fun outings.  I’m confident that some days I will be totally fried by too much time with him, but I hope that overall, this change will lead to a better quality of life for all of us.

Since Simon just turned three, my approach to St. Patrick’s Day this year was to treat it as a special day for the color green.  Of course, we wore green clothes (with the exception of Peter, who couldn’t find his green hoodie that says “Ireland” on it, even though it was on the floor next to his bed).  We did an art project by putting a paper in a shallow box, squirting green paint on it, putting a golf ball in the box, and tipping the box to make the golf ball roll through the paint.  After the paint dried, we cut them into shamrock shapes.

Shamrock

We made homemade play dough; I like it better than the store-bought kind because it’s softer and it smells good.  The recipe calls for two packages of Kool-Aid.  I was bummed when there wasn’t any green Kool-Aid at the store, but then inspiration struck and I bought one package of yellow and one package of blue.  Our play dough came out a fairly pale green, but it was green.  It was a big hit.  Simon and I played with it for an hour.  Peter joined us later on in that time and built a castle and a variety of other buildings.

Green play dough

For dinner we had green macaroni and cheese (though it ended up with more lumps of spinach than an even green color because there wasn’t enough spinach for my food processor to work effectively), green beans, Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness smoothie, and green Jell-O for dessert (I wanted to make key lime squares and have all green foods without using food coloring, but it didn’t happen).

The only New Year’s resolution I made this year was to make a special dinner once a month, because I felt I was being rather lazy in doing cool things for my kids (spending any amount of time on Pinterest can make you feel that way).  In January, we had a winter-themed dinner (with snowmen made with mini powdered sugar donuts, snowman-shaped pancakes, “snowballs” that were Crispix muddy buddies, and hot chocolate), and decorated with paper snowflakes and frost paintings (made with an Epsom salt/water solution on blue construction paper; when the water dries, the Epsom salt kind of looks like frost crystals).  Oh, and blue and white streamers.  February was Valentine’s Day.  I don’t remember what we ate other than the pink and white heart-shaped marshmallows and the strawberry syrup I bought for the pancakes.  We decorated with heart-shaped window clings, paper valentines, and red streamers.  St. Patrick’s Day was our special dinner for March.  I promised Don that we’d have a healthier dinner than the last two, which were overly sweet–it was pretty easy to pull that off with a green theme.  I bought green streamers too.  Streamers are a cheap and easy way to make the dining room look festive, at 97 cents for a roll that will last for many occasions.  I don’t yet have a date or theme for our April special dinner.  (Easter is special anyway, just like the boys’ birthdays were special in February, so those don’t count.)

The end may be near

Our homeschooling journey may very well be ending next week.  On Monday, frustrated once again with reminding Peter over and over to do his morning chores and feeling like it was not productive to keep threatening to send him to school whenever I get worn down, I came up with a simple point system.  If he gets his morning chores done to my satisfaction before 9 am, he gets a point.  If he finishes between 9 and 10, he gets 0 points.  If he doesn’t finish by 10 am, he loses a point.  Achieving 5 points gains a reward of his choice.  Reaching -5 points means we go register him for school.  We started on Tuesday; four days in, he has -3 points.  Maybe he’ll wake up and take it seriously next week, but somehow, I just don’t think he will.  At least this way, it is under his control.  His behavior is making the decision, not me being tired and frustrated.

How we will adapt to getting him dressed, fed, packed, and out the door to catch the school bus at 7:40 am remains to be seen.

Not embracing winter

Don accuses me of not embracing the winter here.  He is totally correct that I haven’t embraced it.  I don’t have the time or equipment to take up cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or ice fishing.  Even if I did, I don’t have the motivation for it.

I’ve long viewed winter as a season to “get through.”  It creates a hostile environment.  I can’t just casually step outside my door like I can in the summer.  I have prepare myself by putting on boots, a heavy coat, gloves or mittens, and a hood or hat.  I have to spend more time putting all the same gear on Simon (at least Peter can dress himself).  Then I step out into snowdrifts and bitingly cold wind.  The snow creates work–it has to be plowed and snow-blown.  It turns simple chores, like taking scraps out to the compost bin, into challenging feats.  Our Jetta and snowplow truck have both gotten stuck in our driveway multiple times, causing stress and wasted time.  Air temperature readings of -15 F and wind chills of -20 to -30 F make me want to hole up in our house and avoid unnecessary trips anywhere.

Don found a graphic from the National Weather Service yesterday that said the highest temperatures in the UP were below the lowest temperatures in Alaska; that didn’t exactly make me feel better.  Sometimes I feel cheated because the winter here is more severe than in many parts of Canada (particularly southwestern Ontario, where we lived for the past five years), but we don’t have the benefits of living in Canada.

Our big, old house is not the most energy-efficient.  We spend a small fortune heating it, yet it’s rarely warm enough to be comfortable.  The living room, where the pellet stove is, is the only room that ever actually feels warm, but it also has major drafts.  The rest of the house is usually between the low and mid 60s F.  We mostly avoid eating in the dining room because it’s so cold–there are large windows on two sides, an unheated laundry room on the third side, and the other side opens to the kitchen, which for some inexplicable reason has no heating ducts.  Unless all four of us are eating together (which is more rare than usual, since Don has been so busy at work this semester), we eat at the kitchen counter–the boys sitting on the two stools and me standing up.  My personal hygiene has taken a hit; it’s hard to find the motivation to take a shower when the bathroom is so cold.

I just keep telling myself that it will end.  It won’t be this cold forever.  Another couple weeks and we’ll warm up to freezing, the giant snow piles will start to melt, and it won’t be torture to be outside.  I cling to that hope.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have really struggled with homeschooling this year.  The first week or two was a honeymoon, but since then, it’s been hard.  A month into the school year, I was wondering if I’d made a mistake, if I should just bail and send Peter to school.  Not being a quitting sort, and remembering that sending him to school isn’t fun either (getting him up early, fed, dressed, and out the door on time to catch the bus, packing lunches, getting him to do homework), I kept on trying.  I adjusted the workload so we were only doing 80% of what I had originally scheduled for a week (knowing that that would extend our school year longer, but figuring it was worth it if it reduced our stress).  Peter is not great at focusing on getting things done unless they are his own projects and it could easily take him until lunchtime to do his morning chores–all of going to the bathroom, eating breakfast, cleaning up after his breakfast, taking his vitamins, getting dressed, feeding the cat, emptying the dishwasher (if necessary), shoveling the porch (if necessary), and brushing his teeth.  Then there was his schedule of academic work to contend with.  We mostly kept up with the work we did together, but he wasted time and goofed off and sometimes actively fought me about his independent work.  I tried just letting him be and trying to get things done that I needed to do around the house, letting him experience the consequences of goofing off by not being able to play on the Wii or the computer or read his books or magazines for pleasure until his work was done.  I tried staying on his case, checking on him every 5-10 minutes to remind him what he was supposed to be doing.  Neither was very satisfactory.  He regularly ran into the evening hours and the weekends before he finished what was scheduled.  It’s not like I was piling on an excessive load; he ought to have been done by early to mid-afternoon every day.  He ought to have had plenty of free time to read and build things and go outside and play and do all the things that kids do and learn from.  The way it’s been going is just not my vision for homeschooling.  By December, I was totally burnt out and ready to take him in to start school in January.  A three-week break (including a week-long Caribbean cruise for my husband and me, while the boys stayed with their grandparents), renewed my energy enough to keep trying.  I tried re-organizing his morning chore expectations, changing his checklist to put breakfast last, reminding him of kids in history who would wake up at 5 am and do farm chores for two hours before breakfast.  It helped, but not enough.  Burnout started to creep back.

For a long time, I’ve realized that this is not sustainable.  I spend so much time and energy on Peter–writing lesson plans, doing lessons with him, trying to get him to do his work, checking his work after it’s done–that my life is not balanced.  I’m not keeping up with the housework as well as I should.  I’m not doing enough fun preschool-type things with Simon.  I’m not getting other things done that have been sitting on my to-do list for months.  Most of all, I’m stressed with fighting him all the time; it’s not the relationship I want to have with him.  Yet, I’ve been resistant to sending him to school.  As noted above, there are stresses with having kids in school too.  Academically, I don’t think school would meet his needs very well.  Socially/behaviorally, I think he’s better off at home and out in the community, rather than in school.  And in my own personal experience of attending seven different schools for kindergarten through high school, the schools that I started mid-year were the schools where I felt that I didn’t fit in socially, whereas the schools I started at the beginning of a school year were the ones where I had friends, so I kept trying to convince myself to at least hang in there for the rest of the school year and then send him to school next year.

Last week Peter didn’t finish his work until Sunday evening, despite the fact that I only gave him four day’s worth of work for the week since Simon and I both had colds and I wasn’t up to doing lessons.  This week (another four-day week since I gave him a day off for his birthday on Tuesday), he didn’t finish his work on Wednesday and then wasted so much time on Thursday that he didn’t finish his Wednesday work until Thursday evening, putting him an entire day behind; on Saturday morning, he had a full day’s work to do.  Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, I sat down at my computer.  I usually do lesson plans on the weekends, so I thought I should probably get started on that.  Then I thought I ought to do some lessons with Peter (who was goofing off instead of getting his independent work done).  I was so tired from fighting with him the past couple days that I didn’t want to do any of it.  I just wanted my weekend to be a break.  So I gave up.  I decided to take him to the local elementary school on Monday to register him, let him have one last day at his homeschool Lego robotics class on Tuesday, and have him start school on Wednesday, which is our state’s Count Day (when the number of students enrolled in a school determines their state funding).  I figured if I was going to send him to school, he should be there on Count Day; I would feel guilty enrolling him afterwards.

I spent the afternoon with thoughts rolling around in my head.  I thought about having to buy Peter a lunchbox and find his backpack.  I thought about what school would be like for him.  I thought about not having him around during the day, about just Simon and me being home.  I didn’t want to send Peter to school, but I couldn’t go on the way it was.  Then a letter came in the mail.  It was for Peter, from a friend he had made in Scouts before we moved here who was also homeschooled.  I remembered her mom’s relaxed attitude toward curriculum.  I thought–maybe we could try unschooling, just to get through this school year.  Then at least I wouldn’t have to send Peter to school in the middle of the school year, which I really don’t want to do.

I looked up some info on unschooling on the internet and it resonated with me more than I expected.  As a self-professed “curriculum junkie”, I always thought unschooling was sort of lazy and haphazard.  But remembering back to when I was a kid, reading books surreptitiously in school because they were more interesting than the lessons being presented, wishing I could just be left alone to do my own thing, I realized how much I would have liking unschooling, and that it would have been a good educational method for me.  Peter is much like me, happily spending hours in books, imaginative, enjoying projects of his own creation.  I think unschooling will work for him.  Rather than being just a way to get through the year, I’m excited about this change.  It will take some of the pressure off me so I can get my life into better balance.  I think Peter will enjoy it.  However, after a careful consideration of our current subjects, I’m not comfortable doing 100% unschooling, so we will “almost unschool”.  I’m going to retain math and French, because I’m not comfortable waiting for Peter to decide he’s interested in learning math and because I don’t want him to lose his French language skills.  Besides that, his learning will be self-directed.  He can read books, magazines, textbooks, ask me for lessons in the subjects he likes, watch educational tv, look up stuff on the internet, write letters/stories/comic books, build projects, do experiments, continue his Lego robotics and gymnastics classes, play outside, and I’m going to get us signed up to do some volunteer work.  Either it will go well and will save our homeschooling journey, or it won’t and Peter will start 5th grade in the fall at the local school.

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