Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Holiday Trap (Warning: Not for the Eyes of Kids)

When I was a little kid, I looked forward to every December, not just because my birthday was in that month, but because I adored the lights and the Christmas carols and all of the goodies my mom would make. For much of my childhood we lived overseas, so seeing family wasn't too much of an option, but if people couldn't come, they would send gifts and cards and warm thoughts. Of course, my brother and I enjoyed the presents. Growing up and finding out the truth of things wasn't so bad either. It was the warmth and spirit of the holiday that mattered after all.

When I got married, things got way more complicated. Not only does my husband celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas, but he is also three days older than me. Now we have three holidays and two birthdays to celebrate in a two week period.

When we had kids, Santa started to come because I couldn't imagine not sharing the things I grew up with with my kids. Suddenly, not only were there Santa gifts, but also teacher gifts to make and cards to write, and I went off the deep end from insanity to complete and utter dread. I hate the month of December now. I approach it with dread and a sense of frustration I never thought I would have about a season that is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Exhausted, I roll into New Years just thankful it is all over and accomplished for one more year.

If there were something I could go back and tell my younger, newer mom self, it would be to NOT set up the expectations that I set up. The expectation of gifts for two sets of holidays. The expectation that Santa would come and drop off an amazing spread of gifts and stockings full of candy every year. The expectation that there would always be a tree and lights and goodies. I can't fall back upon the religious aspect of Christmas because I don't really buy into any of that anymore. If anything, I identify more with the pagan origins of the holiday. We should just light candles on the Winter Solstice (my birthday), and tell each other how much we love each other. That would mean so much more than a guy in a red suit and a glut of consumerism in my mind.

My older, more thoughtful self doesn't like the smoke and mirrors traditions we set up for our kids and the commercial glut of sugar and stuff that our country dumps on each other every year. My kids are reaching the age where they either know the truth and just don't want to admit it, or will be finding out that I have been lying to them very soon. If I could, I would just stop doing it all. But, now I've got two kids who would be heartbroken if all of of that were to go away. Part of me wishes they would ask me about Santa directly so I could get the big question out of the way and instead of spending weeks hunting and shopping and hiding things alone, we could all share in making it whatever kind of holiday we want. I feel like it would be more real and equitable and enjoyable. I can't force this knowledge on them, however. I just know in my heart that they will ask when they are ready to know.

Meanwhile, I stay stuck in this trap of my own making. What is a mom to do?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Raleigh Little Theatre and Fiddler on the Roof

Ever since we went to our first kid-friendly show when my kids were in preschool, our family has loved the Raleigh Little Theatre. This is a community theatre in the heart of Raleigh, where it seems like there is stuff going on all the time. They have two theaters, the larger theatre (the Cantey V. Sutton) is your typical set-up for the larger productions, which can be anything from Hairspray to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love the Gaddy Goodwin theatre though. It's smaller and more intimate and the shows done in this setting are frequently more like Shakespeare's theatre in the round. The audience sits on three sides of the stage and actors enter and exit from all directions.

Many of the kid-friendly shows are done in this smaller theatre and, even better, the actors come out in the end so the kids can talk to them and ask them questions and get autographs if they so desire. The Gaddy is the teaching theatre, which means it is there to educate both those who come to watch the shows and those that find themselves in the shows.The pricing for the shows is always reasonable.

What makes it extra special is that we can frequently go and see people we know in the productions. There is a strong and usually very good set of classes offered each year for all age ranges. My kids have taken part in a number of these classes over the years and almost always had a great time. 

I drive the extra distance to this resource because I believe it is the best in the area. Several towns nearer to us have theatre programs aimed at young kids, but I've yet to be convinced that any of them have the same level of experienced teachers and resources that RLT does. In fact, RLT will be celebrating 25 years of teaching at the Gaddy next Saturday. RLT, itself, has been around since 1936.

Theatre isn't for everyone, but I do believe it has a lot to offer kids of a wide range of talents and interests. Here is a short list of benefits:

1. Public speaking. Everyone should learn how to stand up in front of others and get a point across. It's a very valuable and essential skill in life whether you are going into business, want to be a teacher, or want to be an advocate for any sort of idea. 
2. Personal confidence. I can tell you that I was the most shy and inhibited of teenagers, but when I found that I could get up in front of people and speak, it helped me to find my own personal voice. It helped me to overcome my personal fears and grow as a person. I found that I really did have something to say.
3. Imagination. Acting can be almost an outgrowth of imaginary play. In fact, many of the games the younger kids do in classes have to do with make-believe and pretending they are in various situations.
4. Learning compassion. Having compassion for others stems in large part from trying to understand others and putting yourself in their shoes. Acting can help to stretch those muscles. Not only do you become more in tune with your own body and expressions, but you spend time thinking about where others are coming from. What motivates the character? How would you feel if your were in their place? 
5. Working as a team. Some kids are just not sports oriented and so finding a team situation may be a bit more difficult. If you are in a play, either on stage or backstage, you are part of a team. As part of a team, you have to consider the needs and feelings of others, and of course, you have to do your job, because everyone else is counting on you.
6. Other life skills. Many kids start out acting and find they love back stage work better. All kinds of skills can be incorporated here. Carpentry in set design, painting, researching and sewing costumes, make up, choreography and dance, musical accompaniment and training, the technical aspects of lighting and sound, and management in the form of stage managers, directors, and prop masters. 

My daughter will be in her first serious production here this week. She auditioned for and got in to the Teens on Stage production of Fiddler on the Roof. She has a small role, but I want to let people know about this, not just because the show is going to be FABULOUS, but because if you have a teen interested in theatre, this is the best summer camp I can think of. Once accepted into the program, teens from 13-17 are at the theatre for a series of classes and rehearsals for a solid month, all day, five days a week. To be fair, auditions are quite intimidating and the competition can be tough. But for someone really interested, what better way to learn about theatre than to do an actual production? Even better, they have access to top notch choreographers, musical directors, costume designers, and a truly fabulous director, who is not only tough and no-nonsense, but also kind and fair and really, really good at what she does. 

If you are in town and would like a show to take the kids to, I highly recommend coming to see these teens this weekend or the next. I can vouch for the tremendous talent of these kids. If nothing else, a show like this can be very inspiring and a good time.

Here is what Carolina Parent had to say about it and the anniversary bash:

Raleigh Little Theatre Presents Fiddler on the Roof, a Performance by Teens
You can also catch another student performance when Raleigh Little Theatre’s Teens On Stage/Teens Backstage presents the classic musical, Fiddler On The Roof July 25-Aug. 3 in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. This is the 30th production in the history of the Teens on Stage/Teens Backstage Program, a five-week conservatory and training program that involves teens in all aspects of production. This summer is also the 25th anniversary of the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. RLT will celebrate with a birthday party, “Happy Birthday Gaddy-Goodwin,” on Saturday, Aug. 9, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The event will include entertainment for adults and children, including storytelling, a visit from the Scrap Exchange, and excerpts of past performances in the space. Reserve at this link for more detailed information. Tickets for all events can be purchased by calling the Raleigh Little Theatre box office at 919-821-3111, Monday through Friday, noon-5 p.m., or by visiting the theatre’s website at raleighlittletheatre.org(Photo above right of Raleigh Little Theatre's Teens On Stage/Teens Backstage presentation of Fiddler on the Roof courtesy of Curtis Brown) - See more at: https://www.carolinaparent.com/community/blogs/details.php?Find-Waldo-Win-Prizes-Enjoy-a-Free-Kids-Concert-5407#sthash.YboRfKE3.dpuf

Friday, June 20, 2014

A little science fun

We have been enjoying a random assortment of outstanding science resources this summer.

First is the Cosmos series just aired on Fox by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you haven't seen this series, I HIGHLY recommend you do. You will never be the same again.

We are currently viewing it from pre-recorded episodes, but it is my hope that it will soon be available by purchase or download.

If you don't already know, Neil is an astrophysicist of very high stature. He admired the late Carl Sagan, who had done a series of shows by the same name. This series is Neil's effort to update that wonderful series with current science. The show gives you a glimpse of the history and scope of our knowledge of the earth and the universe.

Along those lines, someone pointed me to this little gem of a website:

You have got to check this out. Have the kids play with it.

It's fabulous, and puts me in mind of this fabulous little video we watched a while ago - Powers of Ten:

It's better though, because you can play with it and find out all kinds of things you may not have already known.

Also, we continue to enjoy the programing at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Most Thursday's you can find some kind of programming at the Science Cafe'. Sometimes it is speakers sharing their work and knowledge on a particular topic. The first Thursday of each month is Science Trivia night. The kids and I met several other homeschool friends there this month and parents and kids all had a blast. I must say that seating can be a problem, but if you get there early, the food is good. The kids formed a team and did pretty well next too some really knowledgable science geek type adults! During the school year, there are also Teen Science Cafe nights (first Fridays), where they try to select speakers and topics of interest to a younger audience. Of course, none of this includes all of the great classes and opportunities the museum offers, or the special exhibits. Right now they have a special Rainforest Exhibit that we plan to check out soon. The list goes on.
There are opportunities for girls interested in science, for teens to volunteer their time and more.

Finally, I have to confess that I am officially addicted to an iPad app called QuizUp. Pick a topic and pit yourself against other players all over the world. It's free and available on iPads, iPhones and Androids. I have no idea how they are making any money because I haven't seen any advertising. Being the science geek that I am, I've been rocking the Aquatic Animals category and have played people from every continent and a few random islands besides! This can be a great motivator to practice trivia knowledge, though I think we all tend to stick to the topics we feel we can do well at. My daughter is the top player in the state for the Percy Jackson category and also pretty much owns the Lord of the Rings, and my son is rocking the 2014 World Cup. I tried General Literature and found out that I'm pretty bad, but I learned a few things anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Little Writing Monsters

The title of this blog post could easily be my daughter, who has been obsessively writing stories, or at least the beginnings of stories, for a good year now, often to the detriment to other things she should be doing... but I digress.

The fact is, I am actually referring to a fun little writing exercise I did today with my son.

 I've been having my son go through this book: Just Write: Creativity and Craft in Writing, Book 1, as a way to get a little writing practice in over the summer. I found it on my shelf and decided it would do the trick. Since he is actually mostly beyond the material thought-wise (one would hope so, it's 1st grade book and he is supposed to be in 5th grade), I am just skimming through it quickly with him, hitting the highlights. In a chapter about descriptions, I came upon this fun little activity:

...use this sheet to list some details about a monster that you create. Then give this list to someone so they can draw a picture of what your monster looks like. Be sure to have enough details so your partner has a clear picture in his or her mind of what your monster looks like.

I told my son if he wrote down some descriptions I would try to draw a monster. If I got the monster all wrong it would be because he didn't describe it well enough!

Here is what he wrote:

Here is what I came up with:

It wasn't exactly what he had envisioned, but he liked it anyway.

My daughter decided she wanted to do it too, so I made up a monster of my own and she produced this very adorable drawing.

 It's not exactly what I specified, but she said she couldn't do a dog snout. I love how she named it and gave it some character too.

I think I'll call that little exercise a success!

Since we are talking about writing here, I should mention that our friend, Casey, who will be providing us with some writing classes next year, has started a blog with some wonderful writing ideas. It's worth checking out.


I can personally attest that her suggestion of, Unjournaling by Cheryl Miller Thurston, is a great resource for writing prompts. I may also check out the rest of the books in the Just Write Series. Some of this stuff is pretty fun!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

NC Maker Fair 2014

Wow. It's been a long time since I last posted. I won't lie. I did kinda give up on this blog for a while... and pretty much any extraneous writing at all. 

The weight of things to keep up with was just too much for me. I even toyed with the idea of letting it go (a phrase heard way too much around here lately!). 

To enumerate all of the things that transpired this Spring would take me quite a while. Let me just say that I haven't been that stressed and overburdened with worry and commitments since we first started homeschooling eight years ago.

We have come to the lovely month of June, however, and I can finally breathe a bit, take stock, and reevaluate our lives. I have thought of my poor languishing blog but just couldn't face it until now.

It is odd what will point a person in a particular direction, and what has pointed me back here is the fact that we went to the Maker Fair yesterday. Yes, just a local event that was a ton of fun, and I have this tremendous need to share our experience with you and way too many pictures for Facebook or email!

I posted about this event last year

Most of the same organizations from last year were there this year as well, but there were some new things and well as the old things. The Fair got so big last year that they moved into a larger building at the Fairgrounds this time around, which was very nice. A little more elbow room made the experience a little less stressful. We had a lot of fun last year, but I was never one to love crowds. Also, it's easier to see what is on the tables if they are spread out a little bit.

There was a nice article in the local paper about it this morning here. However, I must say that the N&O is being very annoying and requiring an account to view it.

Let me just show you some of the stuff we did...

We met many friends while we were there. There was a large cross-section of homeschoolers in the building for various reasons. This is my son with his friend and a Chinese yoyo. They both love playing with these things.

We saw many, many 3D printers. It seems to be the technology of the moment.

Some students from NC State had rigged a "hot wire" that cut through styrofoam like it was nothing. Strangely fascinating to do.

Bike racing. Wait for the green light and peddle like mad!

Costumes for geeks.

My son found a Space Shuttle simulator. It had sound, lights, vibration and lots of cool buttons to push, flip or turn. It also had video and a joystick. Outside was a panel for "Mission Control". I think the maker was possibly showing it to see if anyone wanted to pay him to make them one.

The guy around the corner from this made puppets. They were SO COOL!

Meanwhile, my daughter really loves to spend time, lots of time, at particular tables making things. Last year she went right to the comic book table and made a little black and white comic book which took her almost a half an hour to do. This year she ended up at a table called "MAY DIT". First she made some word-find puzzles that she printed out, and then she made a sign that was then printed onto sticky vinyl and cut out. The sign is now stuck to her bedroom door.

Many people in our local homeschool group have gotten heavily into First Lego League. We have a group called Wake Robotics which has been expanding and is now trying to drum up money to move into a new space. They had a very large interactive space this year to both demonstrate some of the robots that were built this year and to showcase some fun activities for kids of all ages.

We discovered something called MaKey MaKey's, which are little kits you can order to do fun little activities with electronics. This one uses potatoes to play whack-a-mole. Also on my buying list are Snap Circuits and possibly littleBits. They both give kids some experience with building electronics and understanding how energy flows and how things are built... though my husband is more in favor of a good old fashioned radio set.

What's a good Geek-fest without a few robots? We had both real and imagined.

Robot hockey... my son's favorite thing. Too bad we didn't get there soon enough to get his name on the list to drive one. Competitions started on the hour throughout the day.
Also, a tesla coil.

Video games, both old and new. I think this one is called Frogger? Remember it from the arcade days.:/

 Homemade hovercraft rides.

 On the historical and sci-fi end of things, there was the Society for Creative Anachronism doing spinning and calligraphy. We had guys dressed up in Medieval costumes doing sword demonstrations, and we had the Steampunk aficionados showing off some of their costume and set creations.

Arts and crafts included paper creations, textiles, fairy doors and homes, knitting and weaving, jewelry creations, and my favorite, glass blowing.

This was a fascinating mix of art and science. Glass creations made to order, often for scientific purposes. It was so fun to watch. 

There were way more displayers than what I have mentioned here, of course. This post is too long as it is, and we didn't even see many of the tables. 

If you have a Maker Fair in you area, I highly recommend taking a day to explore. There are so many things to see and discover.