Saturday, February 28, 2009

Boxing Babe

In search of some fun, I branched out and tried some new activities on Wii Fit this morning. Since we got Wii Fit a few weeks ago, I have pretty much stuck to the yoga and strength exercises. They are enjoyable, but provide a rather humbling reminder of my lack of physical prowess. A few years ago, I regularly attended a yoga class and loved it. But then the kids' schedules got busy and my husband started traveling a lot which meant that I couldn't escape for some yoga-induced serenity. Wii Fit has reminded me that my sun salutations are pretty good and my tree pose sucks. It also has me trying to squeeze an actual yoga class into my life.

The strength exercises seem to be a mixed bag. I'm still horrible at push-ups and side planks, but am fabulous at the jackknife exercise for some reason. I have no idea why. After giving birth to two children, my abs are certainly nothing to get excited about. But, hey, maybe with a lot more Wii Fit they'll be more washboard than washrag by the time the pool opens on Memorial Day.

Trying to break up the monotony, I thought I'd try some new games today, however. Heading soccer balls was a disaster which reminded me of failing the soccer test in ninth grade PE. Slalom skiing was laughable and recalled my one experience snow skiing. (No, I never need to go snow skiing/falling again, but I'll be happy to hit the resort spa while my family skis.) I did have two big successes today, though. Hula hooping was great! Who knew you could break a sweat by making freakishly large circles with your hips for several minutes. I still couldn't manage to catch and spin the second hula hoop, so I'll definitely need to work on that again tomorrow.

My absolute favorite thing, though, was boxing. Now this makes absolutely no sense. I hate real-life boxing; I hate fighting; I refuse to watch boxing or ultimate fighting and leave the room when my husband flips it on the tv. But something about Wii Boxing was wonderful! I knew that I wasn't actually hurting anyone, so I felt free to punch away as hard as I could. It felt great, so great that I worked through the routine several times. Hitting the fake punching bag really worked off some pent-up frustration and aggression. Now, I didn't appreciate my son and husband sneaking around the corner trying to watch me, but they did slink away, I think, after I caught them. They'd better watch out; I can box.

So, I'm thinking of boxing again tomorrow, unless my arms are really sore in the morning. If that occurs, I'll just break out the Dance Dance Revolution. I'm still trying to perfect my footwork for "Bust a Move" and "Tootsie Roll."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Baguette Bliss

Today was a successful day in the kitchen! I made a baguette! Yeah for me! I am super-excited about this because for me a baguette symbolizes bread nirvana. If someone mentions fabulous bread, I automatically think of a baguette with a hard, crusty outside and a soft, chewy inside. It also recalls a vivid memory of my first trip to Paris when I was in 7th grade. My parents and I were strolling along the Seine when we decided to get some lunch. So we ventured over to a street vendor to order a jambon (ham) sandwich. Do you know what he did? The vendor took a crusty baguette, stuck in on a metal spike, squirted some mustard, shoved some ham in it, then handed it to me. To this day, that is the best ham sandwich I have ever had.

Do you know another reason that I am thrilled about making a baguette? It's that to me, that baguette means gaining some small amount of margin in my life. You know, that idea of maintaining some space, a margin, between your daily life and the edges of the paper where you juggle the maximum amount you can manage. I'm not very good at maintaining margin. I possess a type-A personality and go non-stop most of the time without carving out time to do things that I actually want to do. Usually I'm okay with that; that's me and it's been me for many years. But lately I've been feeling a bit melancholy, like the pieces of my life puzzle are rubbing against and irritating each other, instead of fitting together smoothly. So, I think the fix is to gain some margin to cushion and lubricate the pieces.

Where to begin? Sometimes I would like to escape to a deserted island (complete with room service and a fabulous villa), but since that isn't going to happen I need to create some margin here in my daily life. This is where my bread comes in. Making my baguette means that I took the time to do something I wanted to do, not something I had to do- which makes such a huge difference. Now I need to ponder some other possibilities for making some space for me:

1. Exercise- I waffle between exercising because I want to and because I should. I did enjoy a great run yesterday, though. I was bouncing off the walls from too much caffeine and getting out of the house by myself on a sunny day did wonders for me. Note to self: run more frequently, especially if I keep baking and cooking like a maniac.

2. Maybe do a little shopping- not mall shopping; I dislike the mall. But trendy vintage shopping which means hunting for a great second-hand store which would be so much fun to find.

3. Listen to and play more music. Today I did something that I haven't done in several months- I played the piano. Tickling the ivories to Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" was so relaxing that I played it several times. The real trick to music as stress release is to get everyone else out of the house so I can play show tunes while loudly sing off-key or crank up my IPod and dance around looking silly.

4. Go to my happy places, museums and book stores. Maybe if I am super, super lucky I can squeeze in a day trip or two or three to some museums (and not children's museums, mind you, but real adult-oriented museums). I am trying to indoctrinate my daughter into the wonderful world of art history because I given up on my husband in this area. If I drag him to a museum, he just looks bored and asks how much longer we're going to be there. At this point, some things are best enjoyed alone.

5. Spend time with, or at least talk to, friends. I get so wrapped up in my life that I frequently forget that there are other people out there. Facebook has been great for this, though. Just seeing a random update from a friend reminds me about that person. I do admit that I would much rather send a FB message or IM on FB than pick up the phone and call someone. It's just so much easier and less intrusive.

6. Read more. Selecting a book that I want to read, not one I have to read so I can discuss it with Curly Girl, invites blissful memories of spending entire days reading in my younger years. Of course, now I do have to wear real reading glasses, as opposed to the fake ones, intended to make me look smarter that I wore in high school. I know, I'm a dork. I get it. I am such a nerd that I keep a list of books that I want to read, and one day I will get to them all. Speaking of reading, I am heading off now to curl up in bed with my newest obsession. I finished reading my hot-vampire book (see Addicted post), Twilight, but am now engrossed in its sequel, New Moon.

I would love to hear how you maintain some margin in your life. I could definitely use some assistance in this area. If you know of any great vintage stores in NC, I would love to know about those, too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


My children and I went on a great field trip this morning to the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum.

Aside from the fact that I didn't take the time to enter a complete address in MapQuest which resulted in our directions ending beside a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere, stopping at a gas station for new directions given by a guy pumping gas, and eventually making it to our destination which was only two miles off the interstate to begin with, we had a good time. (Yes, I know, I have not learned my lesson about thoroughly following directions, which now also encompasses an issue of entering complete addresses, not just a town name, in MapQuest).

Our trip was great; we learned a lot, spent time with some friends, and coveted lots of restored farmhouses we saw on our extended sightseeing journey. But, the visit was a bit melancholy for me. Hearing about Charlotte Hawkins Brown really got me thinking about the standards we set for ourselves and other people. In running Palmer Institute, a private school for African-American students, Charlotte Hawkins Brown expected only the best academically from each of her students. Each student had to pass two years of Latin, as well as French, along with following a rigorous classical course of study. My biggest complaint in the years that I taught in a classroom was that we were dumbing down our students. If we only set minimum standards, we will only get minimum achievement from them. What we put into our kids is what we get out of them. If they grow up on a steady diet of fake tv wrestling and video games, guess what, that is all they are conditioned to accept. But, if we expose our children to the classics, take them to the theater and museums, and teach them that a world exists beyond themselves, they will hopefully grow into the world that we have arrayed before them.

I frequently follow Susan Wise Bauer's blog (
where she dishes about her job as a college professor, writing career, and homeschooling life, and one of her recent posts really hit home. In it, she recounts an article discussing how fewer students will have access to great works of literature since many universities are cutting back on their humanities departments. But since when are we dependent on professors to give us books to read? You and I can just as easily pick up and read the Iliad and Odyssey, as we can read a trashy novel. (I do admit, however, that I have recently read the Iliad and Odyssey and could now use a juicy novel to balance them out.) To this end of better-educating myself, I own Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind which includes lists of novels, poetry, plays, etc. for an adult to read to classically educate him/herself. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have rounded up most of the novels and started reading Don Quixote, the first one on the novel list. But being a bit overscheduled, I really haven't gotten very far with it. But, there's always tomorrow to get back into it again. Maybe I need reading group or partner to keep me on track.

On our field trip to Sedalia (the town name and zip code I entered into MapQuest), I was also impressed with Ms. Brown's preoccupation with inspiring her students to greatness. In the video we watched before our tour, a former student at the school recounted how seeing Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Eleanor Roosevelt together on the school grounds created an indelible picture in his mind that continues to inspire him to this day. The gentleman's comments certainly made me think about what type of people (I'm trying not to be judgmental here) we allow our kids to be exposed to. Imagine what a difference it could make if our children looked up to heroes of many different backgrounds, instead of fixating on the celebrity of the week who is trying to make a name for him or herself on the party or reality tv circuit.

My absolute favorite homeschooling experience hands down was when my then nine-year-old daughter and I were able to attend the groundbreaking for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. After entering an essay contest about MLK, Curly Girl was chosen to represent our state (one student was selected from each state) at the ceremony. The three-day free trip to DC for Curly Girl and I was certainly enjoyable, but I am most thankful for the people that my daughter was able to see at the groundbreaking ceremony. Regardless of the politics, one could only be in awe of the civil rights legends that we saw that day. My daughter has mentioned several times since our trip that we saw and heard three presidents speak in the same place. Clinton attended since he set aside the land for the Memorial; Bush spoke as the sitting president; and I don't remember why Obama was there, but Oprah did introduce him as "hopefully our next president." For the record, Curly Girl and I's favorite speaker that day wasn't one of the presidents or Oprah, but one of MLK's daughters who possessed a mesmerizing cadence and tone to her voice. While the trip is an amazing memory for me, what I care about the most is that my child was exposed to living figures of American history, which is an experience that she will carry with her the rest of her life.

Some of you are probably thinking now, "Oh my gosh, this blogger is such a snob." You can think that if you want, but I prefer to phrase it as having high standards. And having high standards is hard because it requires making a personal value-based judgment and then backing it up, even when people want to disagree with you. But from where I sit, it's all about input and output. Whatever I put into my brain or my children's brains is what will eventually come out of them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Should Have Read the Instructions

Perhaps I'll learn my lesson this time . . .

Saturday, I was whipping up a new batch of bread dough and decided to use my newly-acquired stand mixer to make the job easier. I combined the warm water, yeast, salt,and flour in the bowl, then plopped the mixture under the beaters. I didn't plan to read the directions. I didn't need to; my seven-year-old was taking care of that and reading the entire instruction booklet out loud to me. He kept saying, "Mom, it says so-and-so" or "you should do this." Of course, I didn't pay attention. I didn't need to because I never read directions. So, I flipped on the mixer, looking forward to not having to stir the thick dough and then put my hands in the squishy goo to complete the process. No, using the mixer was definitely going to be easier. The first few seconds using the dough hooks in the mixer went well, and then things started to go downhill. Uphill, actually . . .The dough started traveling up the dough hooks and over the sides of the bowl going everywhere. Somehow this wasn't working out to be any easier, and it certainly wasn't turning out to be any neater. Now I had to clean up the splattered dough and try to make edible bread out of it. To make it even worse, the dough had risen up the bread hooks so quickly, that it had gone up into the mixer (which I had to spend an extended time trying to dredge out using toothpicks since nothing else would fit in the tiny, little holes). You can compare the dough in the hole on the right side to the dough-free hole on the left side.
I have a problem with reading directions. My problem is that I don't read them. I'm perfectly capable of doing so, but it's such a waste of time, especially where electronic things are concerned. I still haven't read the directions for my camera or my cell phone, as well as my car or anything else electronic that I own. I tend to take a trial-and-error approach to figuring things out and only dig out the directions when I have gotten so frustrated that I can stand it no longer. Yes, I understand that I would save myself lots of irritation and actually figure out all the gadgets' bells and whistles if I read the instructions, but that still probably won't change my mind about doing so.

Strangely, I do read directions about one thing- traveling. Before going to any trip, I usually delve into one or two guidebooks about my destination. Admittedly, I have picked up lots of great tidbits along the way, like how to ride with the monorail driver at Disney World and that you can get a great free view of the Statue of Liberty by riding the Staten Island Ferry. These successes still haven't persuaded me to read any other directions, though.
So, back to baking . . . After my dough disaster the other day, I promised myself that I would read the directions when cooking from now on. But, guess what, I messed up again. Sunday, when I was making a carrot cake (from a mix; I've never attempted carrot cake from scratch), I ripped open the carrot and raisin packet and poured its contents in a bowl. Only after reading the next direction did I realize that I was supposed to pour the fruit and orange veggie into a bowl of warm water, so I had to backtrack and start all over again. If I could have, I would have kicked myself right then and there.

What is so ironic is the fact that I am always telling my kids, "Slow down and read the directions. Pay attention to what you are doing." When my husband and I got our daughter a keyboard for her birthday, I told her to read the direction book so she could figure out everything the keyboard could do, knowing full well that I would never read the instructions myself.
Obviously, I haven't learned my lesson about reading directions and doubt I ever will. Honestly, since I am so regimented and organized in most areas of my life, it is nice to let a little chaos seep in somewhere.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I am addicted . . . yes, I said addicted. But it's really not that bad. This week I am addicted to a book, Twilight.
I had heard everyone- okay, mainly a lot of high school students- talking about this book and how much they loved, loved, loved it. But I just thought, "Vampire romance, oh please, that is so below me." But in a moment of weakness the other day, I picked up the book and started reading, and now I am hooked. So hooked that I have been trying to find time to sneak in reading a chapter here and a chapter there all day, instead of my usual lie-in-bed-and-read-a-bit-before-falling-asleep routine. I'll even admit that I am rather distracted at the moment because I can hardly wait to curl up and finish Twilight and start its sequel, Eclipse.

I do confess that I swiped the books from my tween daughter's room. Since she has already read the first two books, there is one thing that I am super-happy about- the plot is a chaste romance, as much as a love story between a teenage vampire and his human girlfriend can be. Honestly, I am three-quarters of the way through the book and the there has barely been a kiss. Lots of stolen glances, some hand holding, and private conversations, and, you know what, it's hot. Hot like the first time you hold hands with a new beau, or that first kiss hot. And I would be more than happy for this particular notion of hotness- the chaste part, not the vampire aspect- to catch on in our culture.

Curly Girl is at the point where she would like to read some romance-themed books. Now I do think her idea of romance is more about the idea of it, than acts associated with it, and that is more than fine with me. In trying to find appropriate romance novels for teens, I certainly don't want to set her free in the young adult section of the library or local book store, though. I have tried to recommend some Jane Austen or Bronte sisters novels, but I'm still searching for more ideas if you have any.

So . . . addictions . . . we all, at least I'm hoping all of us, develop little addictions or obsessions for a time before they fade away. You know, you listen to a particular CD non-stop before you get sick of it, or you eat pb&j sandwiches for lunch every day for a week then don't want to see another for a month. After my husband and I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in NYC, we crossed paths with a fan obsessed with the show's star, John Lithgow, by the stage door waiting for autographs. Actually, I think the woman had moved passed obsessed into full-fledged addiction and stalker behavior. The big tip-off was the letter she had in her hand for Lithgow, and the way the security guard kept Lithgow away from the "fan" as he got into his limo.

So, come on, 'fess up. What have you been addicted to? I'll admit to my previous love for Gray's Anatomy before the MerDer tug-of-war became too painful to follow, as well as even creating a Princess Diana scrapbook as a teenager. Please make me feel better by telling me you have some obsessions, too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling, Part Two

Did I happen to mention I love homeschooling? The best part of it has been all the things that I didn't even anticipate about our journey. See Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling, Part One ( for the first half of this post.

More Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling:

1. Every bug and virus in the area don't come into our house. When I taught in an elementary school and both my children were in school and day care, any virus or infection in the area immediately made its way into our abode. Between preschool runny noses, first grade stomach viruses, and vomiting fifth graders (Yes, I even had a student throw-up on his State End-of-Grade test once, and we had to save the test book since every scrap of paper had to be accounted for.), we were constantly sick in our house. One year, I actually missed 20 days of school because of mine and my children's illnesses. We were at the doctor's office at least once a week for a while. Being on a first-name basis with all the nurses is not a good sign.

2. I don't have to spend family time dealing with and trying to fix whatever happened at school each day. This part of school-life drove me absolutely crazy. Every day seemed to bring a different crisis. If it wasn't "What color ticket were you on today?", it was "How many AR points do you need this month?" If it wasn't "Polly Perfect wouldn't play with me at recess," it was "The entire class had silent lunch because Bobby Joe talked in line." My personal favorite was the day that my kindergartener told me about a new game Little Suzy Sunshine had enlightened her about at lunch- Spin the Bottle. Let me tell you that I was not a very happy mother that evening.

3. My children have time to be children. Before you get the wrong idea, let me list for you the subjects my are kids are covering this year. First grade Car Guy: reading about ancient history, phonics, spelling, grammar, writing, math, ancient history, earth science/astronomy, and a bit of Latin. Sixth grade Curly Girl: math, reading about ancient history, spelling, grammar, writing essays and outlining 2-3 texts a week, logic, ancient history, earth science/ astronomy, and Latin. I didn't tell you all that to impress you (I do highly recommend Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind for its rigorous, classical curriculum, though.). It was to make my point that there is a lot of wasted time in a classroom. Now my kids sleep until about 7:30 every morning, eat breakfast, and usually start their work about 9am. Car Guy is usually finished by noon, and Curly Girl wraps up somewhere between 1 and 2. They do a lot of work, and it is honestly more than my students in a classroom ever covered. After the school day, Car Guy and Curly Girl frequently go outside and play, read whatever they want to read, draw, play with Legos, or do whatever it is kids do. Since my kids keep doing "school" until their work is done, their nights aren't spent pouring over hours of homework. After dinner we read together as a family (Right now, Car Guy and his dad are reading Eldest, and Curly Girl and I are reading The Hobbit), then the kids usually draw, write, listen to music or books on CD, or read in their rooms until lights out.

4. My kids are able to participate in more outside activities. I know, I've heard the rap about homeschoolers not getting enough socialization, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm hear to tell you that it's just not true. Because we finish school earlier in the day and don't have to worry about homework, our family has much more discretionary time than when we did after the end-of-the-school-day dash, dinner, homework, and fall-into-bed routine. This school year, Car Guy has played on soccer and basketball teams, takes piano lessons, attends a weekly art class, is in Cub Scouts, and sings in a choir. Curly Girl swims competitively year-round, takes piano lessons, volunteers as a history interpreter at our local museum, attends a weekly art class, plays in a handbell choir, and participates in a youth group two nights a week. She has also performed in community theatre plays in the past and would like to audition for another one this spring, along with maybe playing on a soccer team. I'll also tell you that our family's activity level is comparable to most other homeschool families we know. Please don't ever again think that homeschoolers stay home and isolate their children from other people because it's not true. (By the way, this is Curly Girl in her costume when she appeared as an orphan in "Annie." No, I do not really make her scrub the floors.)

5. My children are learning to think independently. I do not and will not spoon feed my children. I tell them that the person whose brain is thinking is the one whose brain is learning. In other words, they won't learn a thing if I coddle and do everything for them. When Car Guy picked up a rock out of our yard the other day, he pulled a rock identification book of the shelf when he wanted to know what it was. Curly Girl is learning to manage her own schedule. She likes to include a project week once a month when she researches and creates a product to complement what she is currently learning (Right now, she is learning about ancient Greece.) Last week, she did a majority of her Wednesday school work on Tuesday night so she could sleep an hour or two later on Wednesday morning. Time management is such a crucial skill for students to learn before they go to college, and they won't learn it if their days are completely micro-managed for them.

6. I am learning so much more than I ever have before. With the exception of my four years of college, my brain is growing more now than it ever has before (and I am including all of high school). I am learning Latin, and soon Spanish, with my daughter. I figure out multi-step math problems, refresh my memory on predicate nominatives, and create moon maps. Without reservation, I will confess to you that I have learned more about history reading Bauer's The Story of the World and Hakim's A History of US than I gained in all my high school history courses. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why I was never taught about fallacies of relevance, presumption, and clarity when I debated in high school. Knowing informal logic then would have made those debates so much easier to win. Now, I admit, I am a bit tired of reading versions of the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid, but I had never read those before, and I am ashamed to say that my children know more about those works of literature now than I did as a college graduate. See, homeschooling is great for the entire family.

So, there you are. You have heard in a nutshell how our homeschooling lifestyle completely took me by surprise. I'm not saying every day is perfect. It isn't. Some days I just imagine what it would be like to spend the day in my house by myself, and there have been days when my children looked longingly at the school bus as it drove past our house at 7:30 in the morning. But, all in all, I think that we are pleased with our homeschooling life and the opportunities it affords us.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Needed: Math Help

I am stuck, completely stuck on two math problems involving the area of circle. I am working these problems because I have discovered that math goes much more smoothly with Curly Girl if I have already figured out the puzzles ahead of time. You see, Curly Girl gets rather frustrated and hates asking for help when she makes a mistake in math. Likewise, trying to solve a problem myself and explain it to her at the same time doesn't always go very well for me either. My daughter and I being confused and frustrated together is not a good combination. So, to head off some issues, I have taken to working the problems ahead of time myself.

Today, however, I am utterly confused. I have tried everything I can think of, including using the answers and working backward. I still can't figure out how to solve them, though. So I am hoping that one of you can help me.
Both problems are from page 58 of the Singapore Math Grade 6 Challenging Word Problems Book, U.S. Edition. By the way, the answer to #14 is 700 square cm, and the answer to #15 is 119.652 square cm. If you need a refresher, Area of a circle = pi times the radius squared; Circumference of a circle = pi times the diameter.

If you figure either or both of them out, please leave a comment to let me know how you did it. If you are unable to leave a comment on here, feel free to send me a Facebook message.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling, Part One

At the end of 2005, I took the radical step of quitting my full-time teaching job, withdrawing Curly Girl from the third grade at a private school, and taking my son out of full-time daycare. At first, our family embraced homeschooling merely for academic reasons. That was it . . . My husband and I had completely lost confidence in the education our daughter had received in our local public schools (She was there 2 years) and at a private school that she attended for a year and a half. We had no notions of homeschooling for any reasons other than to give our children the rigorous, quality education that we expected them to have.

Now, I am thrilled with where my children are academically. We follow a classical education model based on The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and my kids are learning material that I certainly never covered in my public school education. But I have also been overjoyed with benefits that I never anticipated would occur with our new family lifestyle.

1. I don't have to sell or "help" my children sell overpriced wrapping paper, candles, candy bars, etc. in the name of fund raising. I despise selling things, and we all know that the parents do much more selling than the kids ever do. When my kids were in school and daycare, I dreaded all the fund raising paraphernalia they both brought home every year. I always felt so guilty hitting up older family members who I knew were on fixed incomes to buy things. It is such a relief not to have to be a salesperson anymore.

2. Our family can go on vacation whenever we want. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to visit Disney World in January- no crowds, no heat- pure heaven. I know what you're thinking . . . Those darn homeschoolers are cutting corners again. Don't worry; we still get in our 180 school days. We just don't take all those teacher workdays in the middle of the year. It is also great to have the option of letting the kids sleep in a little later sometimes. When my daughter has appeared in theater productions which are frequently accompanied by some late rehearsals and show nights, it has been such a blessing to be able to let her sleep until mid-morning so she wakes up a bit less cranky and more prepared to tackle the world that day.

3. The world is our classroom. I strongly and without any reservations believe that you learn more through experiences than by sitting in a classroom. This week alone my children have taken classes at our local history museum and a nearby environmental center. My guess is that Car Guy and Curly Girl learned more about our world by walking the trails with a naturalist than they would have by reading about wildlife in a science textbook. In September, our family enjoyed a great week-long vacation in Washington, D.C. As we toured endless museums and monuments, our Capitol, and the White House, my kids learned more about their government and country than they could have in a week-long classroom-based government unit. It is such a blessing not to have to quibble with a principal about missing school days for educational experiences. When my parents asked to take Curly Girl with them on a trip to Europe two years ago, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity for her without having to navigate a school absentee policy that would have probably prevented Curly Girl from partaking in such an irreplaceable learning opportunity.

4. I know my children very, very well. Because my children and I are together most of the time, I know them so much better than I ever did before we homeschooled. It is so easy to sense their moods- when one of them is up, down, or feeling a bit off. After just homeschooling for a few weeks, I knew their intellectual tendencies better than I ever understood those of students I had taught for an entire year. Car Guy is so methodical, a detail person like me. On the other hand, Curly Girl is a big picture person. She learns best through songs and motion. Just today, she and I danced the macarena while we chanted a list of the Roman emperors in order. I am also being selfish. Nothing can replace getting a hug and an "I love you" from your 11-year-old in the middle of the day.

5. You know that quality vs. quantity debate. Well, I happen to think both are important. To have a successful relationship you can't just see each other in passing, or be in the same house but in separate rooms. My children and I are together a lot- we eat breakfast and lunch together, we figure out math problems at the kitchen counter, we snuggle on the sofa and read, we clean the house and plant our garden together. Even though we drive each other crazy sometimes, I truly believe that our time homeschooling will reap big rewards later in life with closer family relationships between parents and children, as will each child with his/her sibling.

6. My husband and I are still are children's primary influences. I think that the people you spend the most time with influence you the most. So, it would follow that a child who spends the day surrounded by peers his own age will be mostly-influenced by them, with mom and dad coming in second. Now I am fully aware that many parents and mental health professionals think that children should spend most of their time with peers their own age, but the world does not really work like that. Since when is everyone the same age in an office or job situation? When my children have careers and families of their own, they will have to interact with people of many different ages and backgrounds. What better way to prepare for this than by living every day out and about in the real world, but with a parent as a guide. Last year, I read Hold On to Your Kids which reassured me that it was okay for me to insist that I am my children's primary influence. As a parent it's my responsibility to impart moral and behavioral standards to my children. If I cede that job to other teenagers, I am certainly not doing my part as a parent. It's hard enough being a parent without abdicating a large part of your sphere of influence. I am just not prepared to give that up yet.

Don't freak out and think that I keep my children home all the time. They are both involved in multiple activities with other kids, so it is rare for us to be home for an entire day. More on that, along with Part 2 of Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling in my next post.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Did It!

Yesterday, I accomplished something that I honestly did not think I could do. I baked bread from scratch! In my Simple Pleasures post a week or two ago, I confided how I wanted to learn to make bread from scratch and was actually feeling some pressure to do so since my parents had given me a bread-related cookbook for my birthday. And as of now, it is now my absolutely favorite cookbook. I was also very intimidated by the prospect of making bread because the recipes violated two of the key principles I use when cooking. One, the recipe involved equipment I do not own. In this case, a pizza peel which I have since learned is the wooden slab that chefs use to take pizzas in and out of an oven. The recipe also contained terms that I did not understand, and the recipe was over a page (actually 5 pages with lots of explanation) long. I'm still not exactly sure what a gluten cloak is, but the pictures and description were very helpful.

After visiting two grocery stores, I found all the ingredients. The unbleached unsifted flour kind of threw me for a loop. I then had to master the scoop-and-sweep method of measuring flour. I didn't realize determining ingredient amounts was so complicated, and I have apparently been measuring all wrong for many years.

Next came the mixing which was a bit challenging since I do not own a stand mixer. I honestly never thought I would make any dishes that required one, but I am having second thoughts and thinking about investing in the appliance now.
The directions also very clearly stated not to knead the dough, and it was hard to resist doing so when I had both my hands in it.

Next came the hard part . . . waiting. The dough had to sit for several hours which was so hard for me. I am not a patient person. I am definitely an "I want it my way, and I want it now" kind of gal. Regardless, I found something else to do and managed to leave the dough alone to rise.

The tricky part- making the gluten cloak- came next. First, I had to cut a grapefruit-size hunk of
dough out of the batch. I wasn't really sure about this because I don't eat grapefruit and can't recall ever buying one either. So I took a shot in the dark and sliced off what looked to be about a pound of dough. Then within thirty seconds I was supposed to shape it into a roundish lump that resembled a loaf of bread.

The bread-to-be then had to sit for another forty minutes before I undertook the dust and slash technique. I'm still not sure why I was supposed to dust and slash, but for whatever reason it apparently worked. Now the loaf was ready to go in the oven.

It baked 30 minutes and ta-da!!!!
After baking, it tasted fabulously with a hard crust and soft inside. I have to admit that I was raised to be a bread snob. My father lived in France for several years as a teen where he rode his bike to the village bakery for fresh baguettes everyday. I was indoctrinated that the best bread has such a hard crust that it can't be cut with a knife, only torn with the hands. And guess what? My bread is like that. I was so pleased with the results that I immediately prepared another loaf so I could send one over to my dad. The best part of my recipe is that one batch of dough makes four loaves so I still have enough dough for two more crusty loaves waiting to be baked in the fridge.

Now that I have mastered the basic boule, artisan free-form loaf, I think I am brave enough to branch out to the other recipes in my cookbook. I'll probably try the baguette next, then perhaps chocolate bread, pita, batard, beignets . . .

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Soundtrack of a Life

It's amazing how music can immediately transport us to specific memories, recollections that formed so far in the past that we thought they had dissipated. When I was running a few days ago with my IPod on shuffle, U2's "All I Want is You" flipped on. Without thinking twice, my mind automatically flashed back to a specific conversation from half a lifetime ago. The scene held such clarity that it was as if I had been transported back in time to it.

That occurrence got me thinking about other songs that remind me of phases of my life, and if I had to create a soundtrack for my life what I would include on it. Furthermore, what would my theme song be? Remember how Ally McBeal said that everyone should have a theme song?

My earliest musical memory is of my dad repeatedly playing Kenny Loggins's "House at Pooh Corner" for me from an eight-track tape when I was in preschool. It was "our" song, my father's and I. So I was thrilled when Kenny Loggins came out with "Return to Pooh Corner" when my daughter was the same age as I had been when I had first heard it years ago. I quickly bought her the new CD, and she listened to it over and over, especially as she dozed off to sleep at night, and I also loved hearing the song again.

The elementary school years were all about the Muppets and "Rainbow Connection." Two friends, sisters, and I were really into the Muppets. A & K even played the piano duet from The Muppet Movie together while acting out the roles of Fozzy Bear and Rowlf the Dog. Anytime I hear Muppets songs, a smile comes to my face as I think of those friends, one deceased way too soon, that I have palled around with since I was three.

I still can't believe that my parents let me go to a Prince and Sheila E concert in 7th grade! My girlfriends and I had a great time, though, and proudly wore our Purple Rain shirts to school on the same days to make sure that everyone knew how "cool" we were. Middle school also brought a flurry of excitement about a pre-multiple-surgeries Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" album-yes, I said album- that was played relentlessly one summer after being introduced to it at camp.

I like to think that my musical taste improved in high school. I abhorred anything Top 40 and ventured over to the alternative side- R.E.M., The Cure, Depeche Mode. I still actually listen to these a lot on my IPod and am thankful for the First Wave station on satellite radio. Now that my kids are getting interested in music, I may have to cut back on it though because I'm not so sure how I feel about them developing an affinity for Robert Smith.

The college years were a funky mix of things. James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, as well as MC Hammer's "Bust a Move" call up a lot of memories from freshman year. Junior and Senior years were encapsulated by a friend and I's antics revolving around Melissa Etheridge's anthems (Get your minds out of the gutter. The activities did not involve other girls.).

Then came the years of a mature relationship, engagement, and the early years of marriage. To go along with the romance was plenty of Sade, Sinatra's "All the Way," and some Prince tossed in for fun.

Recently, I've been listening to a lot of adult alternative acts like Tegan and Sara, Kate Havnevik, and K.T. Tunstall mixed with some Casting Crowns and Toby Mac.

So then what would my theme song be? That's challenging . . . I have such eclectic taste in music, and I haven't even mentioned my love of show tunes. I think I will go with a show tune for my theme song, though. My all-time favorite song has to be "Seasons of Love" from Rent. It's one of the few songs that I could listen to over and over with the volume turned up all the way. Regardless of the fact that it is from one of my favorite shows, I just love the lyrics of the song. They always remind me that life is about relationships, not about money or the achievements that I may or may not personally accomplish. If I had to pick a song that I would like to exemplify my life, it is this one that reminds me to slow down and nurture my relationships because, honestly, sometimes I get so hung up on my to-do list that I forget to slow down to just spend time with the people who are always there for me.

I hope you enjoy this clip of my theme song. What would your theme song be and what would you include on a soundtrack of your life?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentines, Schmalentines

I am a Valentine's Day scrooge. It's not that I don't believe in hearts, cupids, and true love. Heck, I even dressed up as cupid for Halloween one year. Believe me, I appreciate romance, flowers, and Godiva chocolates as much as the next person, but there is just too much pressure to "get it right" on Valentine's Day.

While flipping through a magazine the other day, I glanced at some Valentine's-related comments made by a so-called "relationship expert." Not to put any pressure on you, but this adviser said that a perfect Valentine's Day is imperative to the success of a relationship. I don't know about this. Actually I completely disagree because, for me, no amount of idealized, romance would make up for someone being a schmuck the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year (and I am not speaking from experience here). Furthermore, said grand gesture would mean so much more if it was any day other than Valentine's Day because then it would be a huge surprise (hint! hint! honey, if you're reading).

I am so thankful that Valentine's Day-related grand gestures are not integral to my marriage, or my husband and I would definitely be in the danger zone. You see, we have had one dismal Valentine's Day after another. We spent the first Valentine's Day of our marriage in a hospital when my grandfather was diagnosed with bone cancer. We have also had major job crises on this special day, and two years ago a long-time friend passed away the day before Valentine's after a courageous battle with cancer. Honestly, Valentine's Day has kind of become a-day-to-be-avoided around our house. It is so "not special" over here that my dear husband of fourteen years has chosen to be out of town on Valentine's Day this year.

Truthfully, though, I think my Valentine's Day trauma all began in the Third Grade. For some reason, a very nice boy in my grade decided that he should get me a crimson-colored heart-shaped box of chocolates for the big day. But I, being an independent-minded girl, had no intention of accepting any type of gift from the boy. Needless to say, I was very confused when he burst into tears in the hall after I told him, "Thanks, but no thanks" for the chocolates. I can still very clearly picture him standing in the highly-polished-hardwood-floor hall trying to give me the candy, the teacher explaining to me why I should take the candy, and me repeatedly refusing it. Come to think of it- what was I doing refusing chocolates from anyone?

Yet, the Valentine's Day trauma kept on coming. We have all experienced the dreaded on-again-off-again relationship. Of course, the worst time to try figure out if you are "on" or "off" is anytime near a holiday. First of all, you have to discern if you and your sometimes-special someone are currently together or not. Then, if that is a "yes," you have to try to figure out an appropriate gift for him or her. Now this is harder than it sounds- If you get too inconsequential of a token for your pseudo-boy or girlfriend, you risk looking like you don't care when you most certainly do, but you definitely don't want to err on the side of the "too elaborate" gift and send him or her permanently running for the hills. See, Valentine's Day is just too stressful and fraught with way too many opportunities to go astray.

Finally, my Valentine's Day-aversion was solidified by my college experience. Now I loved college, and I adored my sorority, except for the obligatory-date occasions. These soirees were fun, lots of fun, but I probably would have had a better time without having to come up with dates for them, and dates that I had to initiate no less. So it was with great trepidation that I set out to find a suitable date for these occasions. The number one handicap to finding a date for these functions is naming it a Valentine's Day Semi-Formal because just mentioning anything having to do with hearts and love strikes fear into almost any college-age guy. Then if you get the nerve up to invite a guy that you may be remotely attracted to, inviting him to a Valentine's-themed function automatically scares him off. The second roadblock is calling it a "date". Now maybe a few of my friends had a steady guy, and maybe I did, from time to time, but there truly wasn't a lot of dating going on at Duke, if you know what I mean. So to come up with a date when I hadn't had a real dinner-and-movie date in over a year felt like someone had just told me to go and scale Mt. Everest in a cocktail dress and heels. To avoid the Valentine's Day Semi-Formal date pitfalls, most of my sisters just grabbed a pal from a class or our freshman dorm, then hoped and prayed we didn't lose our senses that night and do anything to ruin our friendship. So you see, my college experiences didn't do anything to help my valentinophobia.

So, you ask, what am I going to do this Valentine's Day since it will be just the pets, the kids, and I? Embarrassingly, my parents have taken pity on my single status for this day of love and are taking the kids and I to dinner. And after I get the kids in bed, Fozzy, Gonzo, and I will probably just curl up in bed to take in a chick flick together. Now, how is that for a romantic Valentine's Day that is integral to the success of any relationship?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Until recently, I had held the line on not having video games in our home. With the exception of an occasional visit to the Lego or Disney website, my kids had really not played video games. Caving to their convincing argument of "Mom, you'd really like Wii Fit," I gave in and let the kids get a Wii for Christmas. I do like the Wii, and I especially enjoy Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution when no one else is in the room.

Yet, all my concerns about video games were confirmed yesterday when Car Guy didn't want to go outside to play on an absolutely gorgeous sixty-five degree day because he wanted to sit inside and play Wii instead. After shuffling the kiddos outside and telling them not to come back in the house until I called them, I was thrilled to look out the window a few minutes later to see them sword-fighting with Star Wars light sabers. It wasn't the fencing I was excited about, but that they were acting out Eragon which Car Guy and his dad just finished reading.

My issue with video games relates to my worry that children are missing out on the simple pleasure of imaginative play amidst all the high-tech toys that offer instant feedback along with lots of bells and whistles. There is such a childlike innocence displayed when a child is building a castle with his blocks, creating a sculpture with his Legos, or pretending to be a character in his favorite book. My kids have a long history of dressing up and playing pretend. My daughter dressed up in all my old tutus from dance recitals when she was little and even dressed her brother in some, too, before he was too old to protest. For the past year or two, Car Guy has spent many days in superhero and cowboy costumes, tossing in some favorite book characters for good measure. A week or two ago, he even wanted the family to call him Odysseus in homage to the hero he learned about as we read a child's version of the Odyssey together. My favorite pretend period of his was the Alex-the-Lion stage, though. After seeing the movie Madagascar a few years ago, Car Guy acted like Alex the Lion for several weeks. He would even make himself a "cage" out of pillows and insist that family members pretend to throw him meat. It sounds strange, but it was really very funny. Maybe that's why he calls himself a "meatatarian" these days.

You know what, it's not only kids that have lost the enjoyment of simple pleasures, though. I freely admit that I don't take time to enjoy things. I love to read, but rarely take the time to lose myself in a book. I adore my family, but am so busy taking care of them that I don't always take time to enjoy them. I really want to learn to make bread from scratch- I mean a great baguette with a hard crust and soft center. My parents even gave me a bread cookbook recently for my birthday, so I am feeling a bit of pressure to put it to use. But bread takes so much time . . . I can, however, just picture myself settling in with a great baguette, some brie, a glass of wine, and a juicy novel. Perhaps that will be my resolution for this year:

Enjoy the simple pleasures of life- family, freshly-baked bread, leisurely sipping a glass of wine, and losing myself in a great book.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gardening at Night

I'm gardening, but not at night. I just happen to like the song. It is the time of year to start thinking about what I want to plant in my garden, though. When I first broached the idea of starting a garden with my husband four years ago, he wasn't exactly thrilled with my suggestion. He said, "Fine, but it belongs to you and the kids. I don't want to mess with it." So the kiddos and I started with this space:

Guess what happened? My husband loved the garden and added this area the next year:

So now we have a larger garden than I ever imagined, and we really enjoy it. I never thought that I would actually like having a garden, but it is completely relaxing and rewarding to walk through the space and harvest what we have grown. I have even learned how to use a tiller and have a not-so-lovely scar behind my left knee from a run-in with the apparatus last summer.

We have enjoyed some notable successes- green beans, lima beans, and tomatoes; some big failures- very thin carrots that never grew more than two inches long and lettuce that closely resembled clover; battled a mole that bit our corn off at the base; chased squirrels who swiped our pumpkins and watermelons; and tolerated some so-so producers that I am not sure about trying again, like peas and okra.

I'm getting a bit bored with the garden, though, and want to switch things up this year. Earlier today I dug out my favorite gardening book (Yes, I know it's a children's book, but that is about my gardening comfort level) for some inspiration.

After perusing Green Thumbs, perhaps we'll try a bean tent. Car Guy would love that. I would also like to grow some herbs that I could use when cooking. I would really, really love to devote part of the space to a flower garden so I could keep cut flowers in the house all summer long. Our lilies look great, but they make a huge mess if I bring them in the house.

Please let me know if you have any great gardening ideas or tricks. We could use some inspiration over here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hidden Blessings

Life is messy. Things happen. Situations are challenging, and circumstances occur that you never ever want to experience again. But, thankfully, those difficult times sometimes contain hidden blessings that you never would have anticipated.

We are currently experiencing a challenging time, but some unexpected enjoyment, in our family. My husband was laid off from his job on Election Day. Due to the economy, his company scaled back their operations, and his position was one of the casualties. When he was first laid off, it was all I could do to keep it together and constantly fought back tears for the first few days. Figuring out how to deal with health insurance and assessing our financial situation consumed the first week or two.

Knowing that Christmas was swiftly approaching threw another heart-breaking wrench into the picture. We certainly wanted our children to have a memorable Christmas, regardless of our financial picture, so we cut back where we could. We didn't send any Christmas cards, and my husband and I cut back on our gifts to each other and family members. But, you know what, I truly enjoyed this Christmas more than any other in recent memory because I just let it be. I didn't worry about buying just one more gift because I couldn't go out and buy it. We didn't run around trying to attend every Christmas gathering and event, especially ones which charged for admission. Instead, we drove around several times just to look at Christmas lights and Nativity scenes while singing carols in the car and spent time with close friends who were there to offer a kind word. Instead of focusing on all the extraneous details of the season, we just concentrated on enjoying the holidays and being thankful for all the things we did have.

Best of all, though, we have also been given the blessing of time. In his former position, my husband traveled a lot. Patrick was an outside sales rep and covered thirteen states, so he was frequently out of town. In the last two months with his previous company, he was out of town more than he was home- as in leave Monday morning and come back Friday night road-warrior traveling. Our children missed their dad; I missed my husband, and honestly, I sometimes felt like a single parent. As the kids and I were anticipating Patrick's return one Friday in late October, my seven-year-old broke my heart when he didn't get excited about Daddy coming home, but instead asked me how long Daddy would be here before leaving again.

So having my husband home has been a treat. For the first few days Patrick was here, seven-year-old Car Guy was so excited about daddy being home that he acted like it was a vacation. He so loves to snuggle with his dad in morning and play a game with him in the afternoon. Eleven-year-old Curly Girl likes having someone more fun than me to joke around with, and I love having an extra set of hands to get everyone up and going in the morning, as well as adult company and conversation during the day.

Now I completely understand and expect that my husband's next job will again involve some traveling. We've coped with it before, and we'll cope with it again. Patrick is beating the bushes for a new job, and we certainly hope things look up sooner rather than later. But instead of fixating on the challenges of our current situation, we choose to focus on our hidden blessings that this season of life has awarded us instead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dr. Seuss Funeral

Do you remember your dreams? Sometimes I do, especially if I wake up in the middle of one. After I stir, I’ll remember the dream for a bit, and then it will usually fade away after an hour or two.

What about recurring dreams? As a child, I used to repeatedly dream that I was alone in a car that was rolling uncontrollably down a very steep hill. I always saw the exact same scene of a dashboard and the same view out of the windshield. Strangely enough, I never tried to do anything to stop the car. Perhaps this dream explains my complete and total dislike of driving in the mountains. The whole driving up, down, and around steep inclines really frightens me. I severely tested how much I disliked mountain driving when I took my two kids to Chimney Rock about a year and a half ago. I was so not happy driving on the twisting two lane roads, and don’t even get me started about climbing the stairs and walking onto the protruding boulder with the flag flying on it once we finally arrived at Chimney Rock. Needless to say, I did not go anywhere near the edge of the lookout platform and had to look straight ahead, not down,while descending the stairs.

Well, I digress, back to dreams. My husband awoke this morning and announced that he had a rather strange dream last night. Patrick dreamed that he was at his funeral, but no one could see him there, and Dr. Seuss was providing the eulogy. I know, it is odd, but keep in mind that my husband is the man who wants a party complete with a keg and disco ball to celebrate his eventual passing,which is hopefully in the very distant future. Apparently, Dr. Seuss’s eulogy was in Theodore Geisel’s trademark rhyming couplet style, and at 8 AM this morning Patrick rattled off the following:

Should we bury him in the ground?
Should we put him upside-down?
Shall we place him in a box?
Shall we bury him wearing socks?

I will miss him, yes I will
Especially when I pay the bill.
I will miss him, yes I can
His corpse smells like green eggs and ham.

He was a great big Gator fan.
He never grew up, like Peter Pan.
I will miss him quite a lot
Where he's going it's mighty hot.

Okay, so we can be a bit irreverent with a dark sense of humor in our family. But see if you can make up your own Dr. Seuss-style ode for fun. It certainly got our day off to a rollicking start.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Beginning a Blog

I have been thinking about starting a blog for a while, but haven’t for a variety of reasons. I kept debating if a blog would be too self-indulgent, too revealing, or if anyone would really care. Besides, does the world really need another blog?

Regardless, I have decided to forge ahead. So to start off, here are a few things about me:

1. Growing up, I hated that my parents kept such close tabs on me. Now I am thankful for it because it kept me out of trouble.

2. I wasn’t a very good roommate in college- too many late nights, too much fun, and I wasn’t used to always having someone around.

3. Working as a retail buyer for five years rid me of any desire to shop.

4. I enjoy cooking and baking- two things I never thought I would do.

5. I love cheese fondue, strawberries dipped in chocolate, chocolate and peanut butter together, brie, and real French baguettes.

6. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and Political Science from Duke University and an Elementary Education certification from Salem College.

7. I used to want thin, straight hair. Now I like my naturally curly, thick hair. I still straighten it sometimes, though.

8. I’m a home school mom of two kids. Coming home to my kids was the best decision my husband and I ever made.

9. I lost fifteen pounds during the first trimester of my first pregnancy.

10. I’m pretty apathetic about adults who mess up their own lives, but I have no tolerance for adults who mess up their children’s lives.

11. I can’t sit still and just veg out. This drives my husband crazy.

12. Magic Kingdom is my favorite park at Disney World; Fantasyland is my favorite part of the Magic Kingdom.

13. I subscribe to Southern Living and Our State magazines and read them both cover to cover every month.

14. I have the opinion that if I want something done right I need to do it myself.

15. I have attended pig races at the State Fair, a demolition derby, and short-track car racing just because my son wanted to go.

16. I feel like I haven’t lived up to my potential when I hear about the amazing things some of my sorority sisters and college friends have accomplished.

17. I didn’t see the need for universal health coverage until unemployment hit our family.

18. I like to know what is going on in the world, but I don’t watch the news all the time because I find it too negative and stressful.

19. I work from home part-time as a freelance writer.

20. I find a deep conversation incredibly appealing.