Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Homeschool Co-op: Apologia's Chemistry & Physics, Lesson 1, Part 1

Today was a good day. It was the first day for us to begin our new co-op. A new year, but with old friends. Two of my bestie homeschool mommas, our 13 kids and me just hanging out in the library conference room is a fabulous thing. It's in the week in and week out times that you really get to build relationships and get to know people on a level that goes deep enough to really make a friendship that lasts.

Aimee gave us a lesson on a Renaissance artist and Jessica introduced us to creative writing in a really fun way. I may talk more about all that some other time, but for tonight, I'm going to focus on my lesson: The Properties of Matter.

My part of co-op is teaching Chemistry and Physics using Apologia's Young Explorer Series. Each lesson will probably take me at least two weeks to get through, because there are a lot of really cool experiments and I want to do as many as possible. This is why I love doing science with other families. It forces me to do more than just show the kids a video or tell them what is supposed to happen. I actually gather the stuff and do the experiments. The accountability and larger group both help with this, I guess.

Lesson One is properties of matter.  Since it was Day 1, we started with a really short review about my expectations for the class and all that jazz. Then came the lecture portion. This is my fourth Apologia science co-op class and I've pretty much done them all the same way. I NEVER read to the kids from the book, unless it's a short excerpt or the directions for an experiment. In fact, I've found that it's best for me to read the material ahead of time, and just make short notes for myself to teach from. It's more fun for everyone that way. No one enjoys a class that only involves the leader reading straight from the text you can read yourself!

I'm a big believer in graphic organizers and use them with kids all the time. So, rather than have them just take notes, I gave them one. Because it's a homeschool class, we have kids ages 4-16. That's a WIDE range. The smallest don't even get a paper, because honestly, if they can't read, there is no point. The middle kids may get a page that is partially filled out and the oldest of the kids have to fill in most of the blanks themselves. Differentiated instruction at it's best, right there! My old principals would be so proud!

There were a TON of supplies for this lesson. I spent a good chunk of time on Sunday afternoon collecting them and making sure I had everything I needed. That said, the baseball and eggs didn't make it to the car and I forgot to stop at my mom's house and borrow her turkey baster. Luck for me, the kids are imaginative and I had a small medicine dropper that we could use in a pinch!

One of the things I love about the Apologia books is that they include a lot of great experiments right in the text. Yes, I supplement with other things when appropriate, but just doing the stuff in the book is enough. That's exactly what we did today; most of the suggested stuff with a little of my own thrown in.

We only got through three properties today; volume, mass and density. We did the experiments for each as we got to them. Density was by far the most fun. Because it was a word that some of the kids had never heard before, we started out the discussion by having everyone stand and huddle together, thus becoming more dense. We then took some steps back; less dense. Repeat a couple times and they got the idea along with a couple of group hugs!

Because I'd forgotten the eggs, I assigned the next experiment as homework. Basically, the idea is to see how adding salt to water changes its density, and thus, the ability of certain things to float. Drop an egg into a regular glass of water and it will sink to the bottom. Drop it in a glass of salt water the result should be different.


We did another salt water density experiment with colored water that stayed separated when we sucked it up in a straw. I have to admit, I kind of blew it on this one. I didn't have big enough cups (see the photo below) because I didn't read the lesson closely enough. I tilted them a little and it kinda worked, but mostly it was a bust - totally my bad. Live and learn, folks!

The next, and last one of the day, went a lot better. It had the most supplies and was pretty pricey, as far as experiments go. I spent over $20 on the ingredients. The point of the experiment was to see how liquids with different densities would stack on top of one another. We followed the instructions and added a cup each of honey, corn syrup, and 100% maple syrup. Those are the three big layers on the bottom. Cool, huh? The next layers were supposed to be one cup each as well, but I got nervous that my vase wasn't big enough and I didn't have the turkey baster. It took a lot of time to add everything with the little medicine dropper, so I improvised. The kids could still see the layers, so that worked. I just forgot about dropping things into the solution to see where they would end up. That was much harder to see. I wish I had taken a bit more time and made all the remaining layers at least a little bigger.

Next came whole milk, dish soap, water, vegetable oil and rubbing alcohol. We added some food coloring to a few of the liquids to make it easier to see the differences. Everyone thought this was a really neat experiment. One of the littler guys kept hypothesizing that the liquids would mix but whenever they did, they quickly separated back out. After getting all the layers in, we added various objects to see where they ended up. You can see the ping pong ball that ended up on top, as well as the die and rock that sunk all the way to the bottom. What you can't see in the picture is the cherry tomato in the dish soap, the bead right under the milk layer, and the popcorn kernel that we couldn't find that's somewhere in the middle!

Next week, we'll discuss seven more properties and make our own lava lamps! I'm really looking forward to seeing how those turn out. Stay tuned, as my plan is to try to document our way through chemistry and physics here! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homeschool Update: All the Other Stuff We're Trying This Year

It's another new year and once again, I'm changing some things up. But we're keeping some things the same, too. Earlier, I wrote about how outsourcing math by using Teaching Textbooks has changed our homeschool for the better. If you missed that, you can read all about it here. Not teaching and grading everything for all four kids has been a lifesaver so far, even though we're only a month in. I actually have time to do the laundry, keep the house reasonably clean and if I'm lucky, catch up on an episode or two of my favorites on Netflix.

Another thing I've passed off this year is writing for my two oldest. I've been struggling to be effective in teaching writing for several years now. This summer my husband and I were discussing how and what we could do to change that. About that time, a friend, who just happens to make a living as a professional writer, posted on Facebook that she was wanting to teach a writing class for middle and/or high school kids. This was honestly an answer to prayer. For a minimal fee (at least, compared to what I spent on TT!) she would teach them about thesis statements and paragraphs and punctuation and all that jazz. We signed up immediately. There are just four kids in the class, so it still has a very "homeschool" feel. They enjoy lots of discussion, a little silliness and tons of individual feedback from a professional writer. It's a total win for us. My son still hasn't fallen in love with writing but at least he's trying now. Truth is, he has great voice and his stuff is fun to read. Hopefully, after this class, he'll know that and realize that he can be good at this, even if it's not as natural to him as throwing a baseball.

One thing we DIDN'T change was our history. Last year we started Notgrass Publishing's America the Beautiful. It's American history, geography and literature. It can be done in a single year, but we decided to stretch it out over two. All four kids gather around the table, listen to me read the lesson and then do age appropriate assignments. Sometimes that means map exercises, creative writing paragraphs, looking up definitions of new vocabulary or completing a crossword puzzle. The older two kids have five daily comprehension questions. All of this is done without complaint. The kids like the lessons and so do I. I am really liking the chronological approach they use. It's brought to light a few things that hadn't clicked for me with my random bits and pieces of history taught in random years. The continual struggle over slavery from the earliest moments of American history, in particular, has stood out to me. They also give a short biography of each president and the kids and I are enjoying learning about them. Did you know that Johnson once beat a man with his cane after a failed assassination attempt, where both men's guns failed to fire? Neither did I. But now we all do!

The littles are continuing their phonics workbooks. Tigger uses a book I had left over from my public school teaching days and AJ uses one I pulled out of a bin at the recycling center. It's probably my very best find out there to date. You never know where you're going to find the good stuff, momma. I'm so NOT above dumpster diving when it comes to otherwise expensive curriculum stuff!

With my bigs, I'm finding we have a few holes. When they were the littles, all of this homeschooling stuff was so new and scary and overwhelming for me. There are some things that we did really well and a few things, not so much. Some things worked really well for one kid and not at all for another. But one area that all of my kids have struggled with is spelling. So, this year we're trying out All About Spelling. The littles are on Step 1, so we have a really long way to go and I can't give much of an opinion on it yet. I do really like that they are learning ALL of the sounds each phoneme makes, not just the long and short vowel sounds. It makes more sense to start off saying that "C" can have a hard sound like in "cat" but also a soft sound like in "circus," as opposed to just saying "the c says /k/." I can already see the difference that is making with AJ reading.

I'm waiting to save up a bit so I can buy All About Reading because I have this feeling that it's going to prove to be more effective than Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys and their learning styles. Since I only have one left who is learning to read, I'm finding it harder to bite the bullet and spend the money, but well....I'll let you know. For now, we're taking it one phonics page at a time.

Next week we start a new co-op with some of our old co-op friends. I'll be teaching Apologia's Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics while the other moms teach art/music appreciation, creative writing, and PE. I've spent the day collecting materials and making lesson plans and I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm pumped about how fun this is going to be! Not to mention, I will get to see a couple of my favorite homeschool moms on a regular basis again! Their kids are pretty great, too, it's going to be a blast to teach. (Chemistry pun intended. My kids keep asking me if we're going to blow things up. I keep answering with, "I hope not!")

This isn't all that fills our days, but it's the majority. We throw in some Typing Instructor, DuoLingo, Tynker, Code.org, Stack the States or other app on most days. The kids read - a lot. To me, to each  other and to themselves. Next month they'll read to the residents at our local assisted living facility once a month. They'll also hear the librarians read at the bi-monthly homeschool story times our local library will be hosting. No one ever meant homeschooling to be staying home all day anyway, right? After all, the world is our school and we can (and do!) learn everywhere!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Homeschool Update: How Teaching Textbooks Changed Us

So....we're like a month into the new school year here. Kinda. I mean, I can't say that we've been hard-core schooling all that time. This year we've done what I'd call a soft-launch. Also known as the "Mom can't handle everything all at once so she's starting off slow" launch. Whatever works, man.

Anyhoo, we're off and running now. And honestly, this may be the best year yet. "What makes this such a great year?" you ask. To sum it up in a word: outsourcing. That's right, my friends, this homeschool momma has started out Year 8 by NOT teaching every single thing myself. It's blissful.

The very best thing I have ever done was switch our math curriculum from Saxon to Teaching Textbooks. Don't get me wrong. Saxon is a FABULOUS, hard-core, tried-and-true way to teach math. Kids who go all the way through it are math phenoms. But you guys, it is SOOOOOOO time intensive. I'm talking hours and hours and hours of math every. single. day. Teaching, working and grading three levels of it pretty much killed me last year. In fact, I would say that it sucked the joy out of many a day in our little home. The kids would groan and moan when I said it was time to do math. There was much, much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thanks to the power of the internets, I found a Facebook group of homeschool parents. A few kept talking about this new fangled math system they called "TT." For over a year, I watched, listened, and researched to see if this was something that would work for us. Last spring, when we got our tax return I talked Vance into biting the bullet, spent almost $600 and bought three brand new levels of Teaching Textbooks for my kids. Honestly, we should have started that very day. But alas, I waited for the new year to start this fall. Rookie mistake.

For those of you unfamiliar with the power of TT, let me give you the basics. TT is a CD based program that works with our iMac. (It can also work on a Windows based machine just as well.) After the initial download, the kids put in their CD, click the icon and put on their headphones. The program gives a lecture, practice problems, and regular problems. The kids have two chances to get it right and get immediate feedback on each problem. TT has a grade book built in, so the kids and I can go anytime and see how they've done on each assignment and test. The problems are fun and even with only one kid able to work at a time, they take WAY less time than how we were doing math before. Did I mention that I don't have to grade anything? Nada. That is by far my favorite part.

Remember how I said that last year there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth? Well, we still have that. Every time I mention cleaning a toilet or giving me a kiss in public, that's the case. But math time? Not so much. In fact, not at all. One kid is often done with math before I even get breakfast. The others smile and go to the computer with absolutely no fussing when I mention that they need to do their math. More than once, a kid has even ASKED to do MORE THAN ONE ASSIGNMENT a day. This. is. unheard. of. Can I get a "Hallelujah" here? Because this change really deserves one. I can honestly say that TT has changed our homeschool for the better. We have more time and even more importantly, we have more peace in our home. *Insert contented sigh here.*

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Unsolicited Advice: School Supplies

It's August. That means BACK TO SCHOOL for many of us.

I taught public school for nine years and am about to start year eight with my kids at home. Add the 18 plus years I was a student (kindergarten through college!) and I've been in a classroom for most of my life. Basically, I'm an expert on this stuff.  Sadly, I'm not really cool enough to get endorsements from any of these companies, so these are my honest, unbiased, real-as-real-can-be opinions. Take 'em or leave 'em, but I really think you're going to want to take 'em.

1. Crayola trumps EVERYTHING. Don't cheap out and get the store brand. Crayola costs more because they make a better product. You will regret it if you don't get the name brand for crayons, markers, colored pencils and water colors. Trust me. Your kid's art will look cheap and dull next to their friends who take my advice. You don't want the kindergarten masterpiece to be second rate because of a few cents difference, do you?

Do you like my handy-dandy little storage box? That's a baby wipes container. Throw a little fancy looking duct tape around the sides and bam! You've got a perfect size container, with a lid, for free. 
Unless the teacher asks for the regular, get washable. Yes, they cost more. But they cost less than replacing the new school clothes you just bought.

*NOTE: Sometimes washable doesn't work. For example, I used to do an art project where kids used crayons to draw a picture and then water colored over that. Washable crayons result in big puddles of muck and sometimes crying kids. The teacher knows how your kids will be using these things. Get what she asks for.

2. Ticonderoga is the ONLY pencil we buy in our house any more. I wish I had known about these when I was a classroom teacher. They sharpen correctly the first time, every time! No more having to sharpen the pencils for hours every week. Classroom teachers, you know the sound the pencil sharpener makes that lasts forever? Well, with these, it lasts a lot less time. They last forever and write amazingly. Those cheap ones you get a thousand of for a dollar? Well, those are horrible. STOP BUYING THOSE! You can get 144 Ticonderogas for under 14 bucks on Amazon. That will last you your lifetime! You can also get a lot less of them for less money if you're not ready to stash them away forever. They even come in pretty neon colors if you want to splurge a little. Aren't they pretty?

Obviously, these have been hanging around my house for a while. But look! Even though they've been chewed on, beaten up and used for constant drumming, they're still all pretty long! They last forever! 
3. Elmer's glue is really the only kind you should buy. Amazon has 30 sticks for under $10. Those will last you a while. The younger your kid is, the more of these they will need. I bought the 30 pack three years ago and we've still got a jar full.

I'm a big believer in repurposing containers. These glue sticks fit perfectly in this glass jar that was originally a candle.

4. If an item on the supply list is almost impossible to find at a decent price (in my town, it's a yellow folder they use at the middle school), let the teacher know. Usually, they can have an idea of where to get it or they can easily swap it out for something else. But they don't know how hard it is to find if you don't tell them. My first year teaching I asked kids to bring a certain color of notecard because it matched the cover of that book. One of the parents let me know it was really tough to find and I made the change to something more readily available. No big deal for me and I saved the parents the hassle of trying to find something that didn't exist!

5. Last year's scissors will work just fine. Really. Unless your kid is heading into 4th grade, where he's probably making the transition into an adult size pair, just use what you've got.  There's no need to go buy shiny new ones.

6. Skip the fancy stuff. Really. Your kid doesn't need shiny, light-up writing utensils. Or sparkly glue. In fact, those things are just distractions at best, or at worst, waiting to be stolen right out of your kid's desk.  Keep the swanky stuff at home for special projects or writing in your diary. Do your kid's teachers a favor and don't send it to school.

7. Okay, maybe not ALL of the fancy stuff. I do love me some Frixion erasable pens. They come in all kinds of pretty colors and they actually erase smoothly. I've found that they're a bit finicky and a few that we've ordered haven't worked at all. But the ones that do are awesome! I use them for lesson planning. These pens erase when heat is applied, so they may fade or disappear completely if you put a cup of hot coffee on them. They also make erasable markers, which I have yet to try, but are on my list. How fun is that?

Keep these things in mind as you head out to spend your kids' college funds on their new school supplies and you should do okay. Godspeed on the new school year! Make it a fabulous one!

Give me shout out for your favorite school supplies in the comments!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: Window on the World

I bought this book for the 2011-12 school year based on the recommendation from Sonlight.  Sonlight uses it as part of their Core B+C curriculum.  I used it with my first and third graders.  My four year old sometimes listened in as well.  It was one of our favorite purchases that year.

Each double page spread in this extremely inviting, colorful book focuses on a different county or people group around the world.  Maps, statistics, and interesting facts about each country/group are included in ways that add to the conversation and allow the readers to understand more about the culture being taught.  The photos are fantastic and are often of children. This has really helped my children to relate to the people we've read about.

Each section has an attention keeping narrative that explains the spiritual situation of the people described in that day's lesson.  Be warned, the authors don't shy away from hard situations or put a politically correct spin on them.  These have really opened up some deep discussions with my kids.  In describing Muslims in Yemen, the book explains, "Because families are very close, it would be unthinkable for one member of the family to choose another religion. Such a person is considered a traitor who deserves to die." That brought up some serious questions that I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to address, but in the end, I was glad to have those conversations with my kids.  In the back of the book they include some pages that explain many of the worlds dominant religions.  These pages have helped me explain many things to my children over the course of this year.

Our favorite part of the book is the "To help you pray" section of each double page spread. This part gives things to thank God for as well as things to ask God for.  I have really enjoyed praying with my children for people we would otherwise not even know about.  My heart still melts when I think of my four year old praying at supper and asking God to "please be with the kids that live in the sewer, God.  Be with them."  My kids and I are much more missions-minded since we have started reading this book.

When used as a part of the Sonlight Core B+C program, kids study the history and geography of the world, starting with the Middle East and working towards more newly civilized parts of the planet.  For example, they start with the Creation story in the Bible, Mesopotamia in their history lesson, the Middle East for Geography Songs and the countries of the Middle East for this book.  More on that when I get around to reviewing Core B+C at some point in the future.

My only complaint with this book is that the edition I have was published in 2001.  It's pre 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  When we read about Iraq, they talked a lot about Saddam Huessein as the leader.  Obviously, I had to update that a little.  I have no idea if an update is in the works or not, but I certainly hope so.

I give this book 5 out of 5 possible stars. *****

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to Have a Spy Party

When my baby turned six he wanted to have a SPY birthday. With only a week to plan, I jumped on Pinterest and looked for ideas. Using several I found there and a little of my own creativity, I managed to pull off a pretty great secret agent event!


Normally, I just text or Facebook the other moms but this time I found a really cute way to do the invites with minimal effort, so I went for it. This blogger over at birthday blueprint had a cute idea. I tweaked her idea and came up with this. I used free fonts called Top Secret and Special Elite that I picked up from here.  It's just a regular piece of scrapbooking paper (a little on the thick side, so it's probably card stock, but not too heavy) that I ran through my printer. Then I freehand cut the edges to look like a file folder. The final result is small enough to now fit in a 5"x7" manila envelope. I wrote the kid's names on the tabs at the top, last name followed by first initial. 

Inside, I copied pretty much directly from the birthday blueprint idea. I changed the seal a little bit. We wanted our spy school to be named Advanced Spy Academy, so I tweaked that, too, using the seal she provided as a start.

Because the party guests were mostly 4, 5, and 6 year olds, I didn't use the cypher. I used a simple picture code instead. I didn't want it to be too hard for the little guys. If your guests are older, there are lots of cyphers and codes which you could create or find on Pinterest pretty quickly.

Getting people to RSVP to an event is a task, so I added my own twist. Parents would need to text me the secret code to reveal the mystery location of the A.S.A.  Once they did, I replied with this:
Congratulations, recruit. You have used your spy skills and decoded the message. The secret A.S.A. training facility is located in (town), in the building known as (our church name). Remember to keep this location top secret and be sure you're not followed. 
The kids seemed to enjoy the extra bit of cloak and dagger. I think the picture clues were just about right for this age group.

As an extra bit of fun, the kids dressed in their "agent gear" and took an invite to the neighbors.


Upon arrival, I had my husband and oldest son stand guard at the door. They asked each kid for the password before admitting them.

Once inside, I met the kids at the Code Name Generation Station. Here they choose two slips of paper, one with a color and one with an animal. Together, they formed the code name. I glued the strips onto name tags and told the kids to use them, instead of their real names, for the party. It was fun to call out things like "Pink Platypus" and "Gold Unicorn" all afternoon. I just used regular paper for the name tags and stuck them to the kids' shirts with masking tape.

Recruits were given a stick on mustache by my eight year old son. He was very enthusiastic about helping the kids put on their "disguises." Several opted for eyebrows over mustaches. I picked up several packs of these at our local Dollar General. They were $1. I got two sizes, larger ones for wearing and smaller ones for a game that I'll tell you about if you keep reading.  The big ones were one to a package and the smaller ones came in sets of three.

The kids liked putting these on but they really didn't like wearing them for very long. Most lasted only a few minutes and several kids had red, irritated skin when they took them off. They were perfect for the game, though.

Once they were properly disguised, my daughter got a foil footprint from each guest. We found that this worked much better on the carpet than on tile. Later, we numbered and hung the prints. We used them for a game that I'll explain in a bit.

Once everyone was foot printed, we brought them all into the larger room and gave the "new recruits" a welcome. I warned them about Doctor Baron Von Evilstein and his minions, then put them to the test to see if they had what it takes to become spies.


PASS THE TNT: This was basically hot potato with "dynamite." My daughter made this for us out of three paper towel rolls, some red construction paper, rubber bands, black electrical tape and a minute timer. We covered the display so the kids wouldn't know how much time was left when passing it. If it went off while they were holding it, they were out. This was a hit. We played several rounds without anyone getting out, then one round where we eliminated kids when it went off in their hands. I randomly changed the amour of time on the timer, but with little kids, it probably didn't matter. I would suggest 10-45 seconds each round, depending on how many kids you have. We had 13 kids playing. This game probably lasted about 10-12 minutes.

Next, we split into three groups for stations. I did this because I couldn't set up enough for all the kids to be busy at once. In smaller groups, there was less waiting, which led to less problems for me! Keeping the kids busy is a must for a party like this one.

SHOE PRINT ID: Using the prints we took when they came in, the kids had to try to figure out which print was from which party guest. I gave them magnifying glasses to make this more exciting. Those were also picked up at DG for $1 each. At first we just had the kids try to guess whose shoes they were. It didn't really work. But the station leaders quickly adapted it, having all the kids take off their shoes and bring them to that area. The kids then got to look at the shoes and compare them to the prints on the wall. This made it much more manageable and I think, fun for the kids.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go but the kids really got into it. I think the magnifying glasses really helped to play up the spy part. My 10 year old manned this station along with an adult friend who stayed to help. I didn't get a good picture of the wall but I think you can get the general idea from this one.                                                                                                                     

LASER BEAM AVOIDANCE: This was by far the most popular activity of the day. My husband set up the course using some red yarn, a chair, a support beam and an air hockey table. The kids had to get through it Mission Impossible style. It was super easy to set up and great to watch! Every single kid absolutely LOVED this one.

TARGET PRACTICE: We traced around bowls, plates and other round things to create two targets. We cut the circles out with a box knife. The circles were labeled with points based on their size. Smaller holes were worth more than the larger ones. We kept score but didn't give prizes. The kids were fine with that. We placed a futon about six feet from the table and had the kids shoot from the far side of it. That helped to keep them a reasonable distance away.

My 12 year old manned this station. It was hard for him to keep up with both guns because he had to reload them quickly. They also jammed several times. If I had to do it again, I would have had 4 guns loaded and ready to go, so that each kid in the group had his own and we only had to reload between groups. Despite the technical difficulty, the kids seemed to enjoy it.

MEMORY BOOSTING: I had one of my kids put on some random bits of costumes (He picked them out himself.) and come into the room with the recruits. He then left and took off one item. When he returned, the kids had to remember what was taken off. We repeated this a couple of times. The recruits got a kick out the costume and it was surprisingly hard to remember what was missing when he removed the Viking hat.

When that was over, I took out a tray full of items I had put together that might be used by spies. I covered the tray with a towel (Okay, it was actually a Superman cape, but I don't know if you have one of those, so you can use a towel if you need to!), then gave the kids a few seconds to memorize the tray. We actually named all the items together because I wasn't sure they would know what a flash drive is. Then I removed the tray from their sight, and took off a couple items. The kids had to tell me what was missing. Because the kids were too young to write, we just did this orally as a group. With older kids, you could have them write down as many of the items as they could remember.  *And yes, those are 3D glasses form the theater. I kept them just for this after we saw the new Star Wars movie last weekend.

PIN THE MUSTACHE ON THE SPY: Saving the best for almost last, we did a Pin the Mustache on the Spy game. To make this life size, I had my son lie down on huge piece of cardboard and traced his body. I printed off a black and white picture of his face and glued it to the paper. Using the sticky mustaches from DG, we played a modified pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game. This was a big hit with the kids.

BOMB DIFFUSION: About the time we finished up with this and I was *going to* let the kids eat cake and ice cream, my cell phone rang. It was Major Monobrow, telling me that Doctor Baron Von Evilstein had somehow infiltrated the facility and needed our help. I put the phone on speaker so the kids could hear. (It was my husband, reading the script I had written out.) Lucky for us, DBVE had left a clue to where the bomb was hidden. The kids deciphered the clue, which led to a bomb shaped piñata. They had to "diffuse" the bomb and keep the candy safe. 

We didn't have a good plan for the piñata, so my husband decided that he and my oldest son could just hold it on a pole between them. This resulted in both of them ducking wildly several times while the moms all tried not to pee ourselves while laughing hysterically. I HIGHLY recommend you figure out a way to hang the piñata from something or at least have really good health insurance for your husband. I really wish I would have gotten some of this on video for you but my phone ran out of battery just before we started this. I'm sure we could have won America's Funniest Home Videos with that one!

After the piñata, we had cupcakes and ice cream. I used the A.S.A. seal from the invitations and some clip art I found in a Google search to make cupcake toppers. I mounted them on black scrapbooking paper and hot glued them to toothpicks. Easy peasy and cheap! My son then opened his gifts. When that was done, the kids got to play on the laser beam course until their parents picked them up.

Overall, I would say this was a very successful party. Most things were inexpensive and easy to make while remaining really, really fun. Every kid got to take home a bag of candy from the piñata and a magnifying glass as a souvenir. We scheduled the party for two and a half hours and it was probably 20 minutes too long. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why I Don't Drink

What do a bunch of moms do when they get together? They talk about their kids and husbands while eating chocolate and drinking wine. Or sometimes painting while drinking wine and eating chocolate. Outside of Amish circles, it's pretty much the thing. Need proof? Check out numbers 10 and 11 on this Buzzfeed list. Or simply do a Google image search on moms and wine. You'll find a gazillion memes. Here are a few of my favorites.

Wine in a red solo cup . . . because trick-or-treating should be fun for moms, too.
I only drink wine on special occasions, like the days I have to do the laundry.
Being a mom makes me feel confident and sexy. No wait. That's wine. Wine does that.
The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.

Those all make me laugh but not from personal experience. Brace yourselves for the unbelievable. You ready for this? I don't drink, like not at all. I can count on three fingers the times I've had alcohol in my body.

1. A sip of my dad's beer when I was around six years old. The verdict? Beer is gross. Haven't had one since.
2. A sip of my mom's wine at a wedding a couple years later. Same verdict. Same result.
3. A couple of sips of some fruity drinks from the bar while in St Lucia for my wedding. They were nasty and the very last alcohol I ever tasted. That was over a decade and a half ago.

I try not to make my teetotaling a big deal if I'm hanging with a drinking crowd. But somehow, even if you're almost 40, it's still a shock to many if you don't drink. You get these kinds of responses.

Like, not at all?
Not even wine?
Never? Ever? 
Are you in AA?

A few weeks ago I was hanging with a group of moms, most with wine glasses in hand, and it came up. I didn't get the AA question, but I got the rest. I think a couple of them couldn't believe it. One girl even introduced me to her life-long bestie with, I have a friend who doesn't drink at all! Can you believe it?  It was hilarious. Another mom friend, who I've known for over 20 years, described me to the group as her most pious friend. I'm pretty sure she meant it as a compliment, in the sense of committed to her God and her religion. A genuinely good person, rather than the more commonly thought of holier than thou Bible thumping bitch. Like I said before, I'm pretty sure that's what she meant.

With all the questions, I felt like they wanted an answer; a reason that I don't drink. And even after 39 plus years, I still felt compelled to have a good one. And so I told them some of my reasons.

1. I grew up Assemblies of God in the 80s and 90s. Alcohol consumption went right along with smoking, gambling, R-rated movies, and social dancing on the list of activities that would take you straight to the Gates of Hell. So, pious as I was, when most others were testing boundaries and discovering hangovers, I didn't drink in high school. It was part of my identity and a part of my faith walk. I took pretty seriously the message of 1 Timothy 4:12 that says Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young but set the example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. I was all about setting that example. Honestly, that still plays in for me.

2. I went to an AG college. To go there, I had to sign a Lifestyle Covenant that said I wouldn't partake in any of the afore mentioned Highway to Hell activities along with a few more. Drinking wasn't acceptable in my circle, even in college, and so I didn't do it then, either. By the time I graduated at age 21, I had already begun learning to live life as an adult without alcohol. It seemed like kind of a lame thing to start now that I was actually of legal age to do so.

3. I'm cheap. Alcohol costs money. I've never been willing to dish out that much for a drink. There have always been more important things to spend my money on. Like Twix and Skittles and Chap Stick.

That's what I told the moms. All of that is totally true but it's not the whole story.  I didn't list all of my reasons because no one wants to hear me talk that long and also because some of them can come off really judgmental or in that not-so-flattering "pious" way. Let me just clarify this for you: I'm not judging you or anyone else for drinking when I don't. We've all got our own stories and reasons and convictions. I really don't think less of anyone for a glass of wine (or a beer or a margarita or whatever. That is pretty much the entire list of alcoholic beverages I can name right there, so whatever.)

Second, although drunkenness makes me more than a little uncomfortable (more on that in point 4), I don't care if you have a drink or two when I'm around.

That said, here's my other reasons.

4. Drinking can make you do stupid and/or mean stuff. I don't think drunk people are funny or cute. I think they're scary and sad. A lot of that probably comes from a time when I was around 15 where someone very close to me ended up being taken to the hospital after running from the police while he was wasted. He's the only one who doesn't remember the night he got that scar on his arm. The rest of us will never forget.

How many times has alcohol been a factor in violent crime? In broken marriages? I've seen the fear in a wife's eyes when her husband comes home wasted and I've had happy drunks hit on me in front of their wives. I've seen people leave the bar together and not remember why the next day. Divorce. Regret. Abuse. Ruined careers. Not risks I'm willing to take with my life or my family. And I don't want to witness others in similar situations either.

5. I have an addictive personality. When I drink one Pepsi, I drink two. If more is around, I'll drink it all before I even realize it. Soda is bad enough. I don't want to risk that same behavior with something that alters my mind in much different ways than caffeine and sugar.

6. I don't want my kids to have problems with alcohol use. It may seem a bit cliche, but if you never take that first drink, you never become an alcoholic. As they grow, my kids will make their own choices and some of them may include drinking. I get that. But at least I can rest easy in the knowledge that they have seen in me an example of someone who doesn't need a drink to have fun or unwind. And that goes for the public school students I have taught and the kids I've taken to church camp, too. When the world tells them that everyone does it, they can know at least one person who doesn't.

My goal in this post isn't to win you over to my side, to make you feel bad, or to give you reasons why you shouldn't drink. It's simply to give you my perspective. To show you why I choose what I choose and to maybe help you understand me and those choices a little better. We don't have to choose all of the same things to be friends. We just have to choose to love each other, wine or no wine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Unsolicited Advice for Sports Moms (Dads, too)

Dear sweet, loving soccer mom that I saw scream at her kid from the bleachers, "Come on, get in there! Geeze!" this one's for you. Over competitive volleyball dad who literally hung his head in shame when his fifth grade daughter missed a serve, it's for you, too. Baseball mom who finds it impossible not to argue with the ump when your son is "unfairly" called out at third, I'm looking at you, sweetheart. Tee ball mom who won't stop screaming at her five-year old because he's playing in the dirt, can we talk for just a minute?

Because I know you. I love you, momma. Girl, you are my friend, maybe even among my dearest. I know your heart is kind and your love for your kid couldn't be greater. Dad, I have watched you with your baby girl and seen the joy she brings your heart. It's obvious to me because I know you outside of sports. I know you day-to-day and I see more of you than just "sports parent."

I get it. I do. I have been you. Sometimes I still am. I have argued with umpires, talked about coaches behind their backs, and yelled at my kids from the stands. My grimace was obvious when an error was made. I've overstepped my bounds and made myself look like a fool. More than once. After all, dears, sports parenting ain't for the faint of heart. 

When our oldest started playing team sports, I found out that I'm a competitive sports mom. That wasn't a surprise, as I had found myself coaching our little guys at the kids' money hunt at the fair. Because, you know, that extra $1.27 was really going to be life changing for my two year old. Talk about embarrassing. When I realized that I was actually doing this, I made a sincere effort to just keep my mouth shut from then on.

If you know me at all, you might know just how hard it is for me to do so. I'm pretty sure that no one has ever accused me of being quiet. I'm opinionated and loud. So loud, in fact, that I became a distraction for my son on the wrestling mat. You see, he knows my voice. So he would hear me above all others, even the coach. And because he was young and used to my instruction, he would instinctively look for me when he heard my voice. This wasn't a good thing, because even after three years as a wrestling manager for my high school team and several years as a wrestler's mom, I'm not a wrestling coach. I'm a wrestling mom. There's a big difference. 

My husband called me on it. You see, he's both a dad and a coach. He's exceptionally good at both. But he was frustrated that E would search me out in the crowd and lose his focus while wrestling. It cost the boy more than one match. Vance let me know what a distraction I was and a lightbulb went off in my head. "I'm not helping. In fact, I'm HURTING my kid with this mouth of mine. Woah." 

So I backed off. Generally now, I'm quieter, sometimes even completely silent, while my kids are competing. Because I'm learning to play the role of "Sports Mom" a little better now. It's a work in progress.

A Kansas City area baseball complex has the best signs on the fences as you enter the park. They say this:

Pick only one
1 - Coach
2 - Player
3 - Umpire
4 - Spectator

I'm trying so very hard to do this at all of our games. Easier said than done. 

But the sign is right. 

It's not my job to tell the kids where or how to play. That belongs to the coach. If I can't trust him to do that well, then maybe my kids shouldn't play for him. If I feel the need to advocate for my kid, the bottom of the ninth inning isn't the time or the place. Private, calm conversations can be had later, when adrenaline isn't pumping quite so hard and everyone can be rational. Or maybe not. Maybe my kid is old enough to advocate for himself and I should just stay out of it. 

I'm too old and too out of shape to play much anymore, so not choosing to be Number 2 is pretty easy for me. But we do encourage our kids to do their best. To try hard. To be good teammates. That no missed shot, strike out, or ace is worth their integrity. 

Number 3. Man, that's a tough one. Everybody wants to make the calls, but unless we're wearing the stripes or the blue shirt, that's not our job either. The ump gets paid to decide ball or strike, safe or out. If he sucks at it, and sometimes he does, then it's still not my place. It's up to the people who are paying him to decide if he keeps his job or not. More than once, I've had to remind not just myself of that, but my kid, too. Especially when the crowd gets all up in arms about a "bad call," my kid may deflect the blame from himself or the players involved and blame the ref. We've had to remind him that once the call is made, it's made. Officials are people, so they mess up. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. But no matter how wrong they are, yelling at someone over a little league game isn't worth my integrity. 

My job is spectator. That means I cheer for my kids and their teammates with all I have. I applaud the good stuff and when the bad plays come; when the ball hits the floor or their shoulders get pinned to the mat, I don't boo or audibly sigh or shake my head or mumble (or God-forbid, shout!) obscenities. My job is ONLY to encourage and to build up. It is NEVER to tear down. Not my own kid, her teammates or her coaches. Not the umpires, referees or line judges. And certainly not the kids on the other team. Because they're just kids, too, doing their best, messing up, and trying again. 

So fellow sports parents, can we just make a deal? Can we just agree to "pick only one" and to parent our children with love and integrity on and off the field? To act in ways that build up, not tear down? Can we remember that at the end of the day, it really is just a game and that the lessons we want to teach our kids through youth sports are so much more important that winning or losing? Because our kids deserve that, don't you think?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Say What?

You know how sometimes you just don't quite hear things right?

There's this country song out there that I heard a million times this summer but I just couldn't catch the lyrics. I just kept hearing, "Lego chicken rider beside me..." Turns out the real words were something more like "No other shotgun rider beside me." That makes more sense. Thanks, Tim McGraw, for not having a song about Lego chickens.

This happens to me a lot. And I'm not talking about just song lyrics.

When it's 6:30 and my husband asks what's for supper and I don't have anything planned, I don't hear a hardworking man who ate lunch 7 hours ago trying to figure out if he should make himself a sandwich. Nope, instead I hear him accusing me of being a lousy wife and mother.  He never says any such thing but I turn his words into something they aren't.

When a great friend encouragingly tells me that she thinks it's great that I signed up for an exercise class, I hear an added, "Because fat girls like you need to work out." It's never there. Never even implied, but I sometimes hear it.

I'm learning to ignore those things that aren't really there. Maybe one day I'll only hear things the way they are actually said, in the tone and spirit they are meant in. That will be a good day. Until it comes, I need to remind myself that just like Lego chickens, such negativity from those who love me makes no sense. And if it doesn't make sense, there's a good chance I'm hearing it wrong.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unsolicited Advice for Your Wedding Registry - Non-Kitchen Edition

One of my dear, sweet, little fourth graders is getting married. No, Lauren's not a 10 year old child bride, but back 2001, when she was in my classroom, she was the most adorable thing on the planet. I still think of her that way and cannot believe that ANY of the kids I taught are old enough to be married and having babies and being grown ups and stuff. But apparently they are, because she's not the first.

Today her beautiful sister, Kaity, posted a question about what to advise Lauren to put on her wedding registry.  Because I'm helpful like that, I posted a link to the post I wrote last year, after another of my beautiful students got engaged. That post is all about what to get to stock your kitchen. It's good advice. Take a minute and open that in another window so you can read it when you're done with this one.  You won't regret it. I promise.

Kaity's question reminded me that I'd always planned to do another wedding registry post for things that were non-kitchen related. So, thanks for reminding me!

It's been over 15 years since I got married, but if I had to do it all over again today, I'd do my best to ask for things that would last as long as my marriage (or at least for the first decade). Here's what I'd put on my a wedding registry:

1. Bedding. You're going to need a couple pairs of sheets. Might as well ask for the nice ones now. Go for the good stuff because buying them yourself later is pretty pricey, especially if you have a king size bed. And after a couple kids, you're gonna want a king size bed. Trust me.

2. An emergency kit for each vehicle. I know, glamorous, right? Jumper cables, flashlights and a jack. Seriously, who buys these for themselves? But you need one. So, let Uncle Harold and Aunt Marjorie feel good about getting you something practical that could literally be a life saver down the road.

3. Tools. Rakes, shovels, hammers, ladders, snow shovels, saws, gas cans, flash lights, screwdrivers and a staple gun are all things you're gonna eventually need. If you don't have them now, put them on your list! And don't forget the plunger. Because you're definitely going to need one of those when your brothers come to visit.

4. Games. Believe it or not, these can really add up fast if you're players. If you plan to entertain, it's always great to have a few board games on hand. Even pick out a few kid friendly versions if you think you'll ever go that route, or even if you just want to someday entertain the nieces and nephews. Yard games like corn hole, croquet, and even lawn darts could be a lot of fun, too!

5. Lawn Chairs. To go right along with those outdoor games, ask for some nice lawn chairs.  More than two, because yes, you and your spouse will be using them the majority of the time, but they're always great to have when company is over, too. We still have a set of folding lawn chairs that we got at our reception. We use the heck out of them, especially during baseball season, and they are holding up beautifully. If you aren't apartment dwellers, outdoor furniture could be a great thing to ask for as well. A table, chairs, maybe even a fire pit, would all add wonderfully to your list.

6. Towels. I'm a little torn here, because you're going to get them anyway, so why put them on the list.  I was tempted to put them on the Stuff You Don't Need to Register For list, but decided to go on this one instead. Why? Because at least this way you might get a couple that are the color you want.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been married for 15 years, have 4 kids and have still NEVER ONCE bought a single towel for my house. We are still using the ones from when we got married. We got that many. It was a bit overwhelming, but it's been nice to not have to buy new ones. For the record, the last of the wedding towels are now in use and have seen their better days. I don't know that we'll make it to year 16 with these but one and a half decades seems like a good, long run.

7. A year of Amazon Prime. Free movies. Free books. Free music and free two day shipping. You really can't go wrong with this one. Even if you don't use the shipping, the movies and music alone are totally worth the price. Even better if someone else is gifting it to you for the first year!

8. A Christmas Tree. If you're not live tree people, you might consider putting a tree on your list. I know it seems strange, but this is a surprisingly big ticket item that you may not be able to afford for yourself for a couple of years if you're just starting out.

There are also a couple of things I think you should skip putting on your registry. One you will get anyway and one I think is just plain impractical. But this is just me. If you just really, really want or need either of these, go for it! It is your registry, not mine.

1. China. Unless you are going to be hosting a lot of formal parties, I don't think you need to register for this stuff. Yes, it's kind of traditional, but do you have a place for it? Will you really use it? The answer to both, if you're young, is probably no. My suggestion would be to pick out some great everyday dishes that you can use for a long time. I'd go with simple, solid prints that you can mix and match with some pretty patterns. Stay away from anything that is going to look dated: stick with classic looking pieces for your mainstays and accent with more trendy items.

2. Picture frames. You're gonna get them anyway. I can pretty much guarantee it. Frames are a go-to gift for people who don't know the couple well, haven't seen the registry or don't have a lot to spend. This doesn't mean they can't be a good gift. I actually still have a couple that we got 15 plus years ago. So, you'll get some. Just don't ask for extras by putting more on your registry.

So, all the rest of you old married folk? What would you add to my list? Newly marrieds, what did you put on your registry (or receive as a surprise gift) that you think everyone else should have as well?