Friday, December 21, 2012

Trapped in Tradition

When I was a kid I loved December. It meant pretty lights and good cheer, presents… and more presents because it also meant my birthday. I kinda hated that my birthday always had to get lost in the Christmas celebrations, but I still really enjoyed the season.

When I became a Mom that all changed and I can’t help but dread December these days. It’s just too much damn mandated celebration at once. We start the month… right after Thanksgiving mind you… with our Anniversary. I have to admit that this is usually very nice. It did take several days of schedule rearranging to carve out some time for us, but we did it. By then I’m already worrying about how I’m gonna get what we need for Hanukkah and Christmas and birthdays though. As if two holidays aren’t enough, I married a man who also has a birthday in December. The stress starts mounting, and it’s hard to relax and enjoy the day.

Hanukkah isn’t too bad and can happen while normal life continues, but there are presents and candles and gelt and sometimes a party or two. Christmas is a tradition I decided I couldn’t not celebrate when we got married. I’m not a believer, but I couldn’t give up the tree and everything that went with it.  Now I wish I had never started with the whole crazy thing. I mean, each little thing is no big deal (stocking stuffers, personal presents, Santa presents, etc.), but I spend most of December worrying if I have enough gifts, if we are going to get the tree up, if I filled the Advent calendar, and if I can get my baking done in time for the extra parties and celebrations we need to go too. Also, the house needs to be cleaned before our Christmas/New Years guests arrive (still not done). Cards… forget it.

I get to do all of this while also continuing to shuffle the kids around to their classes and getting them to do their schoolwork, and shopping and cooking as usual. Birthday!? Bah humbug. Don’t make me celebrate any more please. I haven’t exercised in days and I’ve had way too many sweets and the scale shows it. Also, I’m supposed to be happy about being a year older?! Somewhere around 35 another year became a cause for mourning, not a celebration in my head.  Again…Bah Humbug.

I should be counting my blessings though, right? Now that I got all of that complaining out of my system I think I can do that. Here goes…

I get to see my extended family, people I love but don’t see most of the year. They all come to see me and I don’t have to go anywhere. Pretty cool, right? I’m sick of driving.

Right now my immediate family is downstairs making me a birthday breakfast. I’m often so frustrated with my daughter, but I love her so, and I love that she wants to do so many things for me, even if I don’t really want a cake or a yarn bracelet and I’m always cleaning up her creative messes.
I’ll get a big hug from my son, which will be worth 50 gifts. I’ll also probably get a lovely dinner out from my husband.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about how we are going to buy gifts. My husband has a good job and for that I am very thankful.

Everyone in our house is mostly healthy, and for that I am particularly thankful.

If I could hire another me to do all of that holiday froohaahaa I would. Then I could really enjoy the season again. Maybe after today I’ll have some time to catch up on things and not feel so stressed. It’s the particular curse of the Mom (or other responsible adult) in America to be caught in this holiday tradition treadmill. It’s just particularly bad for me with all of the extra stuff thrown in.

I need to rant every now and then, but I know I am blessed.

How do you survive this season? Are there things you do to save time? Are you so good that you get your shopping done in November? I’d be interested in hearing your ideas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

November: writing, art, history, and geocaching

Well, the good news is that I did it. I actually wrote 50,000 words in a month, and it was a crazy month full of a whole lot of chauffeuring and field trips and a whole week on vacation. I wasn't even going to do it before my daughter talked me into it and I'm not sure my book is even anything worth sharing with anyone, but I'm glad I did it. It's one of those things I always thought I could probably do but never really knew for sure. Now I know I can. If you feel you have a book in you somewhere or have a writing bug, join us next year. It's a steep hill to climb, but if I can do it working an hour or so a night or in fifteen minute increments during the day, I bet you could too. Heck, I didn't even have a plan! I just started writing and made it all up as I went.
National Novel Writing Month

Anyway, while I and my daughter were madly writing in our "free" moments, a lot of other stuff happened.

We took a tour at the North Carolina Museum of Art with our art teacher. They have a still-life exhibit that is very good right now, and given someone to show you the differences and interesting contrasts with the different pieces, it was more enjoyable that one might think.

The exhibit is called Still-Life Masterpieces: A Visual Feast From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It will be open here in Raleigh until January 13. Here is a great link to the museum website, where you can see some photos and purchase tickets if you live in the area and care to go.

We also took a tour with one of our co-ops to see the Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh. This cemetery has a significant number of Civil War graves. Many of the men were moved from northern sites, such as Gettysburg, after the war, when the government decided that Confederate soldiers should be moved to the south. There is a lone Union soldier in the cemetery, mistakenly moved and not identified until later. This was a spot with a great deal of real history. The kids had been learning about the Civil War, and this was a very poignant way to see the cost of that war. Many of these men could clearly be seen to have just been barely men when they died. Birth and death dates are on the many of the graves. Of course, there are several that are unknown. After a tour the kids did a rubbing of a grave of their choice. My son found a soldier with the same first name as him and a birthday in the same month. It was a very meaningful visit and well placed just before Veterans Day. It didn't hurt that that it was also beautiful and sunny out. 

Another historical site we visited was Bennett Place, which is the site of a major surrender to end the Civil War. It was a farmhouse located in Durham along a major roadway to Raleigh. Generals Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman met here to negotiate the peaceful surrender of Johnston's confederate army. It was the largest surrender of the war. There is a museum and you can get a tour of the house, which is filled with humble 1865 furnishings like the family would have had. Our tour concerned how the family would have lived, pumping water from the well across the road each morning, and all of the other chores the children would have done. I have visited this site before and heard about the solider's life during the Civil War. A re-enactor in period dress showed us how food was cooked over a fire. He also shot a musket for us. This site is a must for anyone learning about the Civil War in North Carolina.

In our 4H group, my son has been learning about orienteering and geocaching, while my daughter has been having fun with photography. If you don't know, geocaching is where you use a GPS to locate various things hidden around. They could be in a tree in the forest or behind a sign. Let me tell you, there are little things hidden ALL OVER. If you are curious, check out You can get coordinates there and see a map. It has been a lot of fun and I hope we can do more of this in the future. Apparently, if you have a smart phone there is a free app you can download for coordinates and GPS directions. I don't have one of those cool phones, but if you do, I think the app would be a great resource. 

There was soccer and horseback riding, and then we left town for Thanksgiving. Those are just the high points of our month. There is so much to catch up on and share. Now that (I think) I have things fixed here on my blog, I hope to post a bit more regularly. We're on to the next set of holidays already... more soon!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Technical Difficulties

Hmmm. Now that I'm ready to get back to posting marvelous things here, it's seems there are some technical difficulties that I need to work out. Hopefully I can post some more stuff soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Madly writing, but not here

As I said in my last post, I've been writing madly for NaNoWriMo and have been neglecting my lovely little blog over here. I'm about to hit 20,000 words, which seems like some sort of miracle in and of itself to me, but I still have 30,000 to go! Ugg! Jessi, meanwhile, has set a modest goal for herself for her first time of 6,600 words (as a kid she can set her own word goal) and is a day or so from reaching that already. That said, she has been able to devote quite a bit of time to this project, while I keep having pesky things like laundry, chauffeuring, and having to feed people get in the way. Often I finally sit down in the evening to write and I'm so tired, nothing good seems to come to me. Also, I think my blogging has set a pattern in my brain of trying to wrap things up quickly. I keep having to invent new situations with my characters as I resolve the old ones in a page or two.

Meanwhile, I have some lovely field trips and activities to report upon, but will do that as soon as I catch up to my daily word goal! Wish us luck on our latest creative endeavor! This is truly our year of trying to live creatively.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Ok, it's official. I've been sucked into the craziness. I have joined the NaNoWriMo challenge. What is this you say? It stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you write like crazy for the whole month of November. At the end, if you are a grown up like me, you will have hopefully written 50,000 words or the equivalent of a full novel. If you are a kid, you can set your own goal (usually between 6,000 and 12,000 words for the month). I know people who did this last year and I thought, "There is no way! I don't have time to write that much. Besides, what would I write about?" Well, my daughter has decided she wants to do it, and if she can do it, I feel like I should do it with her. So, here we go! I gotta write at least 1,000 words a day and hopefully it won't be all horrible drivel. If I write a little less here on my blog, that will be the reason why! I've got a pretty good start, but I'm not sure I'll make it to the finish line. 

This is a great way to get yourself and the kids writing if they can take the pressure! I'll post back as we go and let you know how it is going. We both started today (yes, I know we are a couple of days late getting started... hopefully not a pattern to be repeated) and have each logged over 1,000 words of our new stories. Wish us luck!

In the meantime, if you'd like to join in, or just see what it's all about, you can check out the website. It's been a little wonky today. Hopefully they'll get it fixed soon and you won't have any trouble taking a look. Registration is free and they can get you hooked up with other people writing in your area, and offer all sorts of tips if you get stuck. If you go to the "More From NaNo"button and click on Young Writers Program, it will take you to a page explaining everything a young person can do to get started... from setting their own goals, to entering portions for word counts, to tips on writing and setting up a story. Here is the direct link:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Patience, respect, and not taking things personally

I feel I need to write about this because it keeps coming up in my life. It's come up in my personal life, in my local homeschool group, in online blogs and forums I read, and in family issues the past few weeks. 

Here it is. 

The things that people do and say usually have nothing to do with you.

Here is an example: When you tell someone that you homeschool and they take it as a negative judgement of their own choices to school their kids. They become defensive, and that reaction comes from their own personal fears and doubts. Your decision to homeschool has nothing to do with that person and (most likely) your telling them about it is not meant to be a negative commentary on them. Why is it, then, that so many people will hear these things and feel they are being personally attacked?

If I speak to someone about how my daughter is reading way above her grade level and I'm having trouble finding appropriate reading material, I am not speaking of it because I think my kids are better than yours and I want you to feel inferior. I'm actually expressing my own frustrations and hoping to plumb other peoples experiences and ideas to find solutions. I'm not engaging in a one-up game. Really, I am not. A child like that is a double-edged sword, yet some people will persist in feeling angry and threatened by this. I've learned not to mention certain problems until I know the person I am talking to well, to avoid this particular misunderstanding.  

All too often we take upon ourselves or place upon others blame for things without really understanding what that person is going through or understanding that those things probably, at the root, have nothing to do with us. 

If I make a decision about how I am going to live, it's because it is what is right for ME and MY family. I understand that you might not make the same decisions and you might also come to different conclusions... and that is OK.

Maybe it's this election season. It seems that people are getting more and more strident about the issues and what they believe, and less patient with each other. 

My plea is just this... take a moment before you react and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. 

Take a moment and consider that the thing that person just said that you consider to be hurtful might not have been meant that way, and if it was, it might not really have been aimed at you at all. It's especially easy to misread something written online or, conversely, to hit the "send" button without considering the ramifications of a few hasty words. People do all sorts of things when they are hurting physically and emotionally, and most of the time it was something not meant to hurt you, or was not meant in the way you just took it. 

I am guilty of reacting this way as well, but it is a lesson worth repeating.

Patience with each other... human kindness and mutual respect... striving for understanding. 

Don't just react, and don't let your own fears and insecurities color your perceptions of things. I'd love to see a little more of this this season... and I'll get off my soapbox for now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Outdoor Adventures in the Fall

Fall in North Carolina is glorious. Part of the wonder is coming out of the oppressive heat of summer into the cool, sunny clear air of Fall. Gorgeous days pass and the greens and dull browns of late summer start turning to oranges, reds and yellows. I love this time of year. Knowing that the cold grey days are coming, I just want to grab the Fall and drink it in. It's sad that our school system mandates the resumption of serious study at the same time that most people just want to be outside enjoying the cool blue skies. If I were to choose a yearly program, unhindered by outside forces, I would have the kids hunker down to schoolwork June-August and December-February and leave Spring and Fall free for play, camping and other outdoor adventures.

We are still somewhat tied to those schedules, but my family has developed a certain number of "must do's" for the Fall. One is going to the NC State Fair where we see all kinds of crafts and livestock, ride the rides and eat a ton of really bad-for-you food. 

We always have to hit a pumpkin patch to do a corn maze and get some pumpkins to carve. Part of the ritual of this for me is roasting those pumpkin seeds (yum) and also getting some pie pumpkins so I can make everything from pumpkin pie to pumpkin muffins. 

(Where's Waldo?)

This year we added another activity, which I am so glad we could find the time to do. There is a non-profit called Schoolhouse of Wonder based on the Eno River in Durham. They run summer camps, track-out camps, and weekly adventure school days. I love visiting the Eno River, but it is a bit far for us, so I was trilled to see that they are offering some Outdoor Adventure Days down in Raleigh at Schenck Forest (owned by NC State). For a reasonable fee you can drop the kids off with some really great instructors for a full day of outdoor adventure. This can involve anything from learning about edible plants and fire making skills, to group games, stream stomping and mud fights. They promise to bring the kids back dirty, tired and happy. We took advantage of one of these days this week and that is exactly how the kids came back.  It sure helped that the weather was beautiful, and the day outside was a rare treat for them.

I can't help but wish I had been given these kinds of opportunities as a kid. From middle-school on, I knew I wanted to work with animals or in the field of Biology, but I never got a chance to really explore some natural environments until I was in college. I know I'm an anomaly of your typical female, but the first time I got to go wade through a Florida swamp with my Botany instructor I thought I had died and gone to heaven! 

My kids know several ways to make a fire, they know most of the local birds, they know how to avoid nasty things like poison ivy, poisonous snakes and black widows, and they are not afraid to go tromping through the woods and make a shelter out of branches and leaves. I LOVE that they can do all of this, and I LOVE that homeschooling has opened up opportunities such as this one to them. 

Of-course the bonus selfish reason I had for signing them up was to have almost a whole day to myself... a rare treat for a homeschool mom! Part of me wishes I could have joined them though. I haven't worked in field research for years, but I'm still a biology geek at heart. 

There are other opportunities for this kind of thing around of-course (Piedmont Wildlife Center, Clapping Hands Farm), and some of them are a bit cheeper. I do like the facilitators Schoolhouse of Wonder has, and it is convenient for those living in the Raleigh/Cary/Durham/Chapel Hill area.

If you live somewhere where the weather is nice right now and haven't done so already, get out and enjoy it! Life is too short to miss seeing that red-tailed hawk or soaking up some sunshine. Get out of the man-made environments for a while. It'll be good for your body, mind and soul. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

International Festival of Raleigh

We went to check out the International Festival at the Convention Center in downtown Raleigh a few weeks ago. Every year this is held at the end of September, just before all of the other Fall craziness starts. I'm sorry that I'm only just writing about it now! The time has definitely gotten away from me, but it's a resource any Raleigh area homeschooler should know about. There is so much to see and do there and it's all relatively cheep.

If you like to study different countries and cultures, this is a great event to take your kids to. I took my kids a couple of years ago and we really enjoyed ourselves, so I made it a point to put it on our calendar this year. 

Now, if it were just me, I would sit and watch the dancers and performers for hours on end. I was out-voted on this, but the talent and diversity is amazing. For three days, there is a constant stream of performers from cultures all around the world on three different stages . Many of them are local teens and adults who do cultural dancing for fun. Yes indeed, Raleigh is becoming an ever more diverse place to be.

You can do your own dancing as well! My kids spent a great deal of time trying to learn a Baliwood dance (something I found very amusing to watch!) and then when the Irish dancers arrived, they tried out some Irish dancing as well. I think dancing was my daughter's favorite thing at the Festival, especially since I refused to by her any new clothing or trinkets.

In addition to the live entertainment, there are two kinds of display booths set up. The first are commercial booths selling goods from all over the world. These are great to peruse if you are looking for a Russian matryoshka doll or and Indian sari. With the holidays coming up, you could probably find some good hard-to-find type gifts. 

The second type of booth is set up by various cultural groups to explain something about their country in particular. To me this was a bit like our yearly Geography Fair displays, except the cultural groups get a whole booth instead of just a table to work with. If you so desire, you can get a "Passport" at the begining and go around to the various booths collecting stamps for a prize. Unfortunately, my kids declined to do this, so I don't know what the prize was, but it's a great way to get them to investigate the different country booths and talk to some of the people. Some of the booths were more interesting than others and I'm guessing most of it was done by volunteers. We did see some interesting stuff. For example, we got to watch this gentleman from China working at the art of calligraphy.

There is a kids section where you can paint, try on masks, hear stories told from around the world and more. 

You can also go to the hoola-hoop area and hoola-hoop to you're heart's delight!

Along one wall is the food area, and an impressive line of multi-cultural foods were definitely represented.  You can sample foods from Thailand, China, Africa, Italy... you get the idea.

Bookmark the Festival page and check it out next year if you live in the area. It's a three day event and only $5-6 for kids and $6-8 for adults on any given day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It's so hard to keep balance. Sometimes I think life is really just one big exercise in learning how to balance all the conflicting wants and needs... not just for myself, but also for everyone around me. Since I am the "Activities Coordinator" of our family, it all seems to fall to me.

Every day it seems my daughter says, "Mom, can we_______?". Your can fill in the blank with any number of things, but probably not "clean toilets today". Actually, it's usually, "Mom, when can we______?" (go to the beach, get a cabin in the mountains, go out to California, go see family, have a big party at our house.....). It seems her desires have no limit and she seems to think I can make just about anything happen, which is both flattering and utterly frustrating.

Daily life is about all I can handle. Give me one or two extra things to deal with and I'm maxed out. Here is our general weekly set-up at the moment:

Sundays - religious school (DD- she chose this and I support her right to choose) and outdoor soccer game (DS)
Mondays - 4th Grade Co-op (DS), Spanish lessons (both), indoor soccer (DS)
Tuesdays - Classes at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, piano lessons, art lessons, and karate Wednesday - (bi-weekly) 9-10 year old Co-op (currently studying Critical Thinking and The Hobbit)(DS), Middleschool Literature Group (DD), 4H (photography and map reading and orienteering), and religious school (DD)
Thursday - community theatre sponsored homeschool acting group (DD) and karate class
Friday - Park Day, random field trips, errands and more soccer, and (pant pant pant)
Saturday - Horseback riding (DD) and soccer AGAIN (DS)

In-between we fit in at-home book learning and homework, playdates, random field trips, mom's time to get some exercise, various appointments, cooking and shopping, and of course meals and sleep. Cleaning might happen, or it might not.

This is me trying to cut back. Really. I dropped several things last year only to pick up a few new ones. I'm also still having to turn down new and exciting things starting up all the time. It really is a marvel that we live somewhere that has so much going on and are part of a homeschool group that is so hopping.

Still, how much is too much? How many social and group activities are a good balance for your family? We tend to do a lot of interactive stuff because my eldest craves it, and although I'm an introvert at heart, I want to take advantage of the opportunities out there. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to do those things. Honestly though, if it were just my son, we'd be home a lot more. It seems like a lot of homeschooling families we know in the area are like us, out there doing things, but I also know families that have one or two activities a week and are home the rest of the time and they are happy with that. Where does your family fall? How do you balance it all?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thinking about Vietnam

One of my favorite blogs to read is this one. I think I love it so much because I love to hear about other parts of the world and hope some day to travel with my kids, even if we never actually bike across Europe or trek through Tunisia like this family does. Lately, they have been exploring Thailand, and this post in particular grabbed me. It's about the killing fields in Cambodia, and I realized how little I know about this part of the world and it's history. This, in spite of having had a stepfather who flew missions in the Vietnam war.

I went on a search of some books to help me educate myself and also possibly share with my kids, and I did find several. Coincidentally, my kids got their latest issue of Faces, and guess what it was about?
There is a great variety of information in here in small snippets. It's great overview of the country as it is now with a little bit about it's past.

The first book I read was in Juvenile Literature. I'm always going through the Juvenile Lit books for reading material for my daughter, so all of the books here will be books for kids. I do intend to delve into some more adult books on the subject soon (any suggestions?) but for now, here are some great kid-based resources.

 Inside Out and Back Again is an interesting book for several reasons. The writing is done in very narrow strips, and short, one page chapters that almost look like poetry. The perspective is of a young girl in Vietnam who finds herself a refugee and a transplant to a very different world; small town Louisiana. Her perspective on being a smart kid, an immigrant, is in itself illuminating, because there are so many things we take for granted in American culture that she found bewildering, and the local people assumed she was dumb because she couldn't speak English. Meanwhile, she missed so much from her home. I read this book in an afternoon and am very glad for it.

Another terrific kids chapter book is "Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam" by Huynh Quang Nhuong. It's an autobiography, and here is the most amazing thing about this book...

you fall in love with a water buffalo.

My kids were luke-warm about reading a book about a boy and a water buffalo, but trust me on this. It will grab you in unexpected ways. A marvelous read for young kids that illuminates rural life in the hills of Vietnam before the war.

Huynh Quang Nhuong also wrote The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam. I haven't read it yet, but it seems like some of the same stories but for an older audience. I did read a couple of reviews and it looks good.

Leaving Vietnam: The True Story of Tuan Ngo by Sarah Kilborne is a Ready-to-Read Level 3 kids book, which tells the true journey of a young refugee boy and his journey from Vietnam to America. The book describes the fear and extreme thirst and hunger they endured followed by months of uncertainty in refugee camps. For an early reader book, I found it to be surprisingly sad. At one point an old man goes crazy on the boat and tries to kill himself. I'm glad to for the truth of this story, but I also think parents should probably be aware of these situations when choosing reading material for their kids.

A flipped perspective comes from a book called When Heaven Fell by Carolyn Marsden. This chapter book for juvenile readers is told from the perspective of a poor young girl in modern Vietnam who gets a visit from a long lost relative from America. There is a value in seeing how the culture of her family works and how they live, and also the misguided expectations she and her family have about people in America. Judging by the American movies she's seen, all Americans are rich and dress in fancy clothes and have parties all of the time. Vietnamese history is also touched upon in a very gentle and personal way.

If you are looking for a picture book on this subject, a good one I found is called Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran. The story is printed in both Vietnamese and English and tells the story of a little Vietnamese-American girl who goes with her parents back to Vietnam for the first time to visit her relatives there. At first she is upset and angry about all the the "normal" things she can't have, but she comes to love her family and way of life in Vietnam as much as she loves her typical American life at home.

I found a lovely listing of children's books about Vietnam here. Some I have not read yet, so take a look if you want more ideas. There are also books on Vietnamese stories and wildlife, but I'll leave that for another post. Also, if you have good suggestions, please comment. I'd love to add to this list.