Do We Expect Or Allow Too Little?

The Wall Street Journal published a provocative piece this week on the state of middle-class children in the U.S. It was prompted by research done by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families. I urge you to read the article. Shirley Wang does an excellent job of summarizing the research and bringing up some key concerns about what the research might indicate for our children.

For me personally, with kids who had an academic start in Montessori and then moved to unschooling, I have serious concerns about the dumbing-down of our children. As parents, we are have been conditioned to be so quick to do for our children that I wonder if we are raising them to become incapable of doing for themselves.

Is it unreasonable to teach a preschooler how to make toast? Or fold laundry? Maria Montessori didn't think so. Neither do I.

Is there any reason why a child can't use a proper glass or silverware when eating rather than cartoonish plastic dishes? Our children do, and they manage just fine. In fact, we've found glass drinkware is more stable than the plastic cups. They're also learning to clear their dishes, load the dishwasher, and put away their clean clothes. The older kids learned to do their own laundry around the second grade. They each got a laundry basket and instructions on how to do laundry. Why? It's a life skill. Just like learning to read, do math, and all of those other important subjects we focus on in school, why do we then assume our children are incapable of such basic life skills in the home?

As they've gotten older, I've involved them in other life skills as they've become physically and mentally capable. I want children who can make decisions and understand natural consequences long before they leave my home. If I helicopter overhead, that will never happen.

When my daughter decided to start public school for the first time in her life this year, I supported her decision. I do not ask her to do her homework. Ever. She does it because she choses to. She gets it done. She gets an A average in school. Why? Because she wants to get those grades. She earns them, not me. All of the pride associated with that achievement is hers to own. I can be proud because she is a responsible person who makes good choices, and I feel like I helped foster that within her.

There's not only a sense of pride when children are responsible for taking care of their family and their environment, but also a realization that things don't just magically happen. Clean clothes don't magically appear (so, you might not want to toss every little thing into the hamper). Food tastes better when you participate in cooking it. It takes a family—all of us, working together, to make a household run well. We are each important members who have something special to offer, each with unique strengths, complementary skills, and working together, we can be successful.

On Being Proud: It's Not About The Grades

Peanut brought home her first letter-grade report card today. It's her first traditional report card, period. When she attended Montessori school, we had conferences and received written feedback from the teachers, and as the students got older, they participated in the process, as well. But, there were no traditional report cards. She got a 3.86 GPA. She is very proud. She did it all herself.

First grades. First report card. 8th grade.

As a child who unschooled for most of the last three years, you might think I was concerned about how she would handle the academics of her 8th-grade year of school. I wasn't. I don't think she was either. My children have never lost their love of learning. They had excellent teachers in their early years of education, enjoyed an environment where they were free to learn what they desired when the home schooled, and as she entered middle school, she did so with that same self-directed passion she's always had for gaining knowledge.

Now, that doesn't mean there aren't times where she asks for help with a writing assignment, wanting her mother to proofread what she's written or assist her in outlining a paper, but that's mostly died down to minimal assistance the further she's gotten into the school year. The same thing goes for math. She asks for help when she's stuck, but all of the initiative to get her work done comes from her. Nobody nags her. Nobody asks her if she's turned in her assignments. She owns her success 100%. That's why she's proud, and that's why I'm proud of her.

My Girl and Her Kitty Cat

There's more, though. Peanut doesn't just go to school and get good grades. She has found a great group of friends who "make good choices." She volunteers to help kids in our community, something she spearheaded on her own. She doesn't do it because she gets points at school. She doesn't do it because she has to or because it makes her popular. She just does it because she enjoys it.

Even though she leaves her laundry on her bathroom floor, her dishes in places they shouldn't be, and her dog needs a bath right now, she really is a good kid, and I am seriously proud of her.


Tools Of The Trade: Painting Without Trashing The Table

Need to keep your child's paper from slipping while they paint or draw?

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An inexpensive roll of blue painter's tape works like a charm and doubles as a way to hang the artwork when it's finished.

There's another handy tip featured in the picture above. Q-tips make excellent disposable paint brushes. In this case, we were working with primary colors and used on cotton swab for each color, but kids like to mix (kind of the point when working with primary colors and learning to mix the colors, anyway). Instead of giving the children access to the entire pot of paint, I pour it onto plates in small amounts. This controls the quantity used and keeps the original containers a little neater for future painting sessions.

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Make friends with sponges. You can run them through the dishwasher to keep them clean or even microwave them for a few seconds to really kill off the germs if that's a concern (be careful when you pull them out, they'll be HOT). A moistened sponge kept next to messy activities allows a child to be more independent in cleaning up. It also gives you a quick way to mop up spills if needed. I like to cut my sponges in half. They're still plenty big enough for the job.

I cannot tell you how much I love this next item, but trust me and get yourself a giant roll of paper. It's a must-have in my opinion. We grew up with a roll of unprinted newsprint that I don't think we ever used up, but were always using. It can be used for wrapping paper, art projects, just let your imagination go. Right now, I have a smaller version on a spool I got from IKEA that's super handy. The spool was $6.99 and the roll was $4.99. Worth every cent. As you can see, we keep it next to a supply of pencils, pens, specialty scissors, and colored pencils. It gets regular use.

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Happy creating! Go get your craft on, kids.

 

Hanging Out With The Internet ChicagoIsh Style

The train arrived in Chicago Friday after only about an hour-long delay due to a freight train breaking down ahead of us. Oops.

No worries. We checked into the hotel, once our rooms were ready, and headed out to eat some deep dish pizza with the INTERNET!!!

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Well, Peanut and I did, anyway. Bug was a little too enamored with having his own hotel room to get out much during the weekend. Give a teenage boy his own room and access to room service, and you don't see much of him. He was in heaven. It was his perfect vacation.

He did manage to get a roaring game of Yu-gi-oh going Saturday night with another one of the kids after they went swimming, but I digress.

After pizza, there was a cupcake extravaganza, brought to us by Flirty Cupcakes. They drove up a truck full of tasty goodness just for us! Oh, the yum.

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Next, we had to get our sing on. Cuz, um, duh. But, you can't do that in Chicago unless you experience the Barbie bathrooms. Ladies and Gents, I give you the bathroom so pink that the camera can't handle it:

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You saw it here. Yes, that's INSIDE the women's restroom. I know. It's wrong. And right. And I peed. Literally.

There was some YMCA thing that happened. Jon got a bit enthused and forgot that he's straight.

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The next morning, we had breakfast at Steve's Deli, because why wouldn't you? It's awesome. Mathilda was totes hungover. Just look at her. What a lush.

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Then, we met in the hotel lobby for a Louboutin playdate. Duh. Shoes.

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After that, it was off to the big CHSH tweetup. The main event!

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Fearless: How We Do

I hated middle school. In fact, I rarely find an adult who didn’t. My children have been homeschooled the past couple years, by their own choice. This year, my daughter has decided she’d like to go to public middle school. Seventh grade. On purpose. I support her decision 100%. Why? Because she needs to do this.

Here’s the thing, though. On the first day of school, most of us, myself included, usually did our best to blend in, especially in middle school. You wanted to wear what everyone else was wearing, make sure your hair looked like everyone else’s hair, same shoes, same backpack, all that shit. Not my kid. Wonder where she got that from?

She has different priorities. Not only will she know not one single kid when she sets foot on campus, she wants to make sure she stands out, looks different and makes a statement. She is fearless. Today we spent the afternoon getting her hair dyed purple—part of her master plan. (I swear, I’ve made her watch Mean Girls.)

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She has clearly adopted her father’s attitude that if you don’t like her, there’s something wrong with you. And, there just might be a little bit of her mother in there, too--that part that doesn’t give a shit what other people think, although it took me longer than middle school to get to that point.

She and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything. We make mistakes. I screw up. She screws up. It’s part of being a family and human. But, we talk about it. We work on it.  And, hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and make things better as we go along. I do know, I wouldn’t pick any other kid to be my daughter. This one’s a keeper.

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I love you, Peanut.

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A Majestic Distraction

This morning was Bob’s bone marrow biopsy. I slept until the last possible moment, put on the most comfortable clothes I could find, my rain boots, and some waterproof mascara. His sister met us there. You know, the sister who met us there for every chemo treatment last time. The sister who’s already battled lymphoma, herself. We held each other’s hands while we tried to hold back the tears.

This morning sucked.

The biopsy hurt worse this time. He said he started sweating it hurt so bad. Evidently your bone marrow looks like raspberry syrup. Dr. W informed him that it does not, however, taste like raspberry syrup. Total rip off.

The biopsy wasn’t enough fun. So, I had my teeth cleaned. While I was in the lobby waiting for my turn in the chair, the World Most Saccharin-Sweet Couple were checking out.

I sat on my hands to avoid throat-punching them. You’ll be pleased to know I was successful in my restraint. I also succeeded in answering questions like, “So how are you today?” with the customary, “Oh, I’m fine thanks.” When what I really wanted to say was, “Me? Yeah, I’m pretty shitty. Thanks for asking. I spent this morning with my husband getting his ass bone drilled because they think his cancer’s back and he’s not even 40 years old. We may have to cancel my son’s 13th birthday and Christmas is pretty much hosed. I’m hoping it’s not the last one I have to spend with my husband. Oh, you didn’t really want to know how I am, did you? My bad.”

But, I didn’t say that. I just thought it. All day. But I didn’t say it. Do you hear me God? I resisted two throat-punches AND gave polite answers to inane small-talk. I know, good deeds don’t count for shit, but but but…

Anyway, by this afternoon, a change of scenery and pace was in order. So, the sky opened up and poured down rain. The winds blew. And I drove with Peanut to the edge of creation to a ranch that’s been in this valley for over 150 years. That’s not unusual where I grew up, but around here, it’s rare. And it was just what we needed. My Dr. Doolittle daughter and I needed to get out of town.

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Peanut got to take a lesson on a horse named Majestic.

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The sky stayed clear the entire time we were there.

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I played fetch with a new friend.

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And for a little while, the world became a very simple place.

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Read, Speak, Know: Banned Books Week 2009

This week is Banned Books Week. I'm rather fond of reading. My kids like books. They read around 140 novels last year between the two of them.

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After a quick look at the list of frequently challenged and/or banned books, I was shocked not by how many I’d read, but by how many my children had read. So many of the books on the list are books I would consider children’s books.

You know, I do so love being told what I can and can't do. Wouldn't it be just grand if someone would decide which books were and were not appropriate for me and my children to read?

Yeah, um, NO. That's not going to fly in this house. My people came to this country so we could enjoy some basic freedoms. The books we read, the words on the pages (including this one), and the words that come out of our mouths are a BIG freedom we enjoy and plan on keeping.

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Every year, more books are challenged. More books are banned. More words go unread. More authors undiscovered by new eyes. More voices silenced. Unacceptable.

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Find out what you can do to fight the censorship. Yes, YOU. And you. I know you aren't wearing pants. None of us are. That's the beauty of the Internet. Just keep your webcam off for a minute (or don't, that's your business, really) and take some action on this before Big Brother knocks on your door and takes away your copy of Harry Potter. You think I'm joking? Harry makes the list All. The. Time.

My beloved Judy Blume has a truckload of books on the list. You all remember how damaging her works were for young readers. Don't even get me started on the classics. Oh, wait. Too late. To Kill a Mockingbird? On the list. Brave New World? On the list. As I Lay Dying (home to my favorite chapter of any chapter ever written, and I quote, "My mother is a fish.")? On the list. A Farewell to Arms? On the mother fucking list.

If you’re feeling particularly outraged, visit one of these PRO-censorship (yes, I said PRO) groups and let them know what you think of their efforts. Hey, I wonder if any of their members would be available to be our poster child/adult/pet for the Help Cure the Humorless cause. I bet they have a lot of potential candidates.

    * PABBIS: Parents Against Bad Books in Schools
    * ClassKS: Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools
    * Citizens for Academic Responsibility

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Swallowed Up By Edumacating My Childrens

NCLB Ha!

Image by califmom via Flickr

I been busy y’all. Seems I done birthed some kids a decade or so ago. Now, they want me to teach ‘em some stuff. You can read all about it in my posts over at CalifmomHomeschools. Here are a couple of posts to get you started:

Homeschooling Two Vastly Different Children: Can It Be Done?

Getting Into The Groove: Week 2

Seriously, though, that’s why I’ve been slacking off over here with my posting. Peanut’s decided she wants to do some hard-core book learnin’ this year, and I am the official whip cracker (which is not the same thing as a redneck cracker. Boy did I find that out the hard way).

Plus, I’m still waiting for y’all to send in your photos for the poster child for our Find a Cure for the Humorless campaign. The hell? I made you a ribbon with my own shaky hand.

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I even came up with a couple of new options:

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Now, do your part. Find us a poster child/adult/animal (I’m flexible, literally)!

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Mitch Hedberg is Educational

Although it probably wouldn’t work because I’m already married and eMusic is website. I don’t think Bob will give me a divorce just so I can marry eMusic. Can I marry a website? Because right now, I totally want to marry eMusic.

When The Artist Formerly Known As Chemo Boy (whom I now have a symbol for, check it out):

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(although, I made it myself. So, I’m not sure if it means No More Chemo or No More Toxic Waste Dumps.)

anyway, when he got The Cancer, and I thought it would be a nice way to celebrate by dropping our external hard drive (with all of our backup data) on the floor, killing it dead, I never got around to re-downloading all of my tunes from eMusic. In fact, I put my account on hold (because they are so nice they actually let you do that) and just plain forgot about the whole damn thing until this week when I got an email from those lovely folks at eMusic reminding me that they were reactivating my account.

I’m sure it’s because they sensed my need for music, not because they wanted to go back to collecting my monthly fee. They strike me as a generous people. A generous people with good taste.

In addition to downloading the bazillion trillion million (An official number. I know because I was gifted for a brief period in early elementary school before I became too dumb and they kicked me out.) songs I had lost in the hard drive floor drop of ‘09, I also discovered some New To Me tunes.

If you’ll all just quiet the fuck down, I’ll tell you what I got. I said shush up. I’m still waiting. Hey, I’ve got all the time in the world over here. As soon as Johnny pipes down…well, alrighty then.

The DodosVisiter

The Dodos – 3 Individual Tracks from Time to Die: Longform, Troll Nacht, Acorn Factory

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Now, I’d never even heard of The Dodos prior to today. I know, some hipster just dropped his can of PBR. My deepest apologies. But, my Mitch download should compensate for any hipster offenses.

Truthfully, Mitch should have already been in my downloaded music. He should have been spending his nights spooning Stephen Lynch in the comedy section of my iTunes library. Alas, he was not. Poor Stephen’s been lying there bare-assed and cold. (I reverse-alphabetize the comedy section for spooning purposes.)

To do penance, I’ll spend the evening listening to Mitch with my son. I’m sure it’s totally age-appropriate. Hell, we’re homeschoolers. It’ll be an interdisciplinary course – history of comedy and drug education. Throw in some Salvadoran takeout for dinner, and we can make it a multicultural event. Don’t judge until you’ve walked to the minivan in my flip flops.

Great. Now I’m craving pupusas, and it’s all your fault for making me turn this into a learning experience for my kid. The things I do for you people.


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The Family Tard Cart

If I could afford it, this would be our family car.

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Instead of shirking away from the word retarded, we embrace it. Steal it’s power back.

If this was our car, we’d paint “Family Tard Cart” on the side in gothic letters and cruise around town with pride.

Why? Because that’s who we are. We’re all special. And we rock. We have acronyms and long words after our names like ASD, TS, OCD, ADD, and Depression, and Migraine, and Fibromyalgia, and we’re crazy homeschoolers, too. Oh, Lord!

I think it’s high time the special needs population reclaimed the words used against them.

It wasn’t that long ago that “queer” was an insult. Now there’s a Queer Nation.

Not so many decades ago, my son would have been locked away, considered possessed in some cultures. My daughter would have been thought too nervous and fragile. I would have been kept on the upper floor, never seen, and seldom referred to. Now, thanks to modern medicine, and education, we roam free. Scary, huh?

There’s no reason our short bus has to be ugly. There’s no reason for us to hide in shame. There’s no reason for us to let words like “retard” belong to our enemies.

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I Listen to Him Sleep and Ponder my Moratorium on Camping

A campervan, or recreational vehicle, custom-b...

Image via Wikipedia

In eight hours I accompany The Artist Formerly Known As Chemo Boy to his first appointment as a remiss patient. Except he’s not remiss. He’s in remission. So, that’s the wrong word.

I could say cured, I guess. But that word scares me. Brings tears to my eyes. Makes me nervous. Makes my heart skip beats. Makes me want him to wear me like a backpack like I wanted him to do when he first got sick, when his lungs first started to fill with fluid, when he first morphed into Chet from Weird Science. (Chet sans flies. There were never flies. Thank God there weren’t flies.)

Again, we walk the uncharted.

New questions:

How often do we do these follow up visits?

What kinds of tests?

What signs do we watch for?

How soon can he…?

When will this side effect be gone?

What about this one?

Will this one ever go?

It is hard to watch him have to restrain himself from returning to his life 110%, from returning to his passions even 50%. (Well, most of his passions, but those other ones aren’t your business peeps.) I’m talking about going to the gym, weightlifting, and most importantly riding.

He hasn’t been on his dirt bike in so long. I have no idea how long it’s going to take him to get into the physical shape he needs to be in just to ride, much less ride enduros, but I hope it’s soon. Those are his sanity saver. They keep him physically fit and mentally sound. My man sans motorcycle is not my man.

And, with the kids both homeschooling this year, we’ve got no reason not to join him on the circuit (other than my distinct disdain for all things camping). But, I’ve promised to suck it the fuck up, in the name of love and family, and attempt some RV time to join him at the rides.

See, enduros aren’t so much about watching. (Except for the start, you don’t see them again until they return.) But, given the travel time, it’s a lot of lost family time, and would be a great way for the kids to see more of the great outdoors and the state, in general. Plus, I’m sure we can get a wifi signal or do some gourmet cooking on those gas stoves, right? S’mores and cocktails, at least.

So, here’s hoping Dr. W gives The Artist Formerly Known as Chemo Boy the go-ahead for ramping up for this season’s riding series, or I’m going to have one cranking man on my hands. And my hands are starting to get carpal tunnel, if ya know what I mean.

P.S. I can always get dropped off at the nearest hotel right before we pull into a camping location, right? That still counts as like “almost” doing it? It’s like “everything but.” I’m sure it is. I’m gonna ask my Mormon friends. They’ll know. I think it’s like what’s in my heart that really matters. I mean, I can totally hang there during the day and stuff, and then just hit my hotel room for sleepy time, shower time, deuce dropping time. This will work out. I know it will.

P.P.S. And before anyone gets in the comments and starts in about how I should give camping a try, let me give you a quick rundown of my camping credentials. I started camping before I could walk. I continued camping in tents, without tents, in RVs, trailers, motorhomes, 5th wheels, Class-C RVs, Class A RVs, RVs that probably cost more than my first condo, in a sleeping bag under the stars for a week in the Sierras, snow camping at 8,000 feet on cross-county skis for spring break with my family while I was in high school (while my friends were working on their tans in Hawaii), in cabins, on a beach in Mexico, and I would like to say that I feel confident in saying that I DO NOT LIKE CAMPING. IN ANY FORM.

P.P.P.S. So, y’all can appreciate it when I say I’m willing to do this RV thing for my family. Only for my family. And we will be renting said RV, because there is a strong possibility based on P.P.S. that I may only survive this experiment once before I end up under the wheel well begging for Bob to just run me the fuck over. Quite frankly, he may oblige that request. In which case, he’s going to want a fresh RV anyway.

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Wrapping Up

Primary School in "open air", in Buc...

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As our school year comes to a close of sorts, I’ve been looking back through photos and posts in our private blog, among other notes and things that will be used to create our portfolio of the year.

It’s astounding to see how the kids have grown this year, mentally and physically. They no longer peruse the shelves of the children’s section of the library, having moved on to more challenging reads. Their feet are nearly as big as my own. They’re developing interests and identities that continue to reflect who they are and what they believe.

Peanut remains one with nature and her animals, climbing trees, surrounded by dogs, cats, and rarely spotted wearing shoes, indoors or out. When she’s not out exploring with her friends of the two- or four-legged variety, she can be found with her nose in a book (most likely historical fiction) or online, interacting with her Australian mates on Runescape, checking out the latest music videos (I won’t tell you the artists for fear of embarrassing her), or emailing local friends. She still loves planning events, organizing things, and is quick-as-a-whip at math.

Bug loves science as much he did when he was 5, and his knowledge continues to grow with his own exploration, 4-H projects, and field trips to The Tech. He shares his father’s love of gaming, but takes it a step further by designing games. With multiple game design courses under his belt, and kudos from every instructor, he’s certainly shown an aptitude beyond his years. He’s broadened his reading genres this year beyond the fantasy realm to include historical fiction, and even a little historical non-fiction. He completed a few UC-level U.S. History courses earlier in the year that piqued his interested.

The emotional maturity Bug and Peanut have developed in the past few months, dealing first with my surgeries, then with their father’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, has been nothing short of impressive. I could not have asked for more flexible, loving children. We have been open and honest with them. There have been tears. There have been questions. It has been hard, but we will survive. We are blessed with great support from friends, family, and professionals who help us when we need more than we can provide for ourselves.

We are blessed.

Much love to all who have made this journey an easier one for us. You have a special place in our hearts.

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New Post and Stuff about Bewbs

Adequate ventilation has also been regarded as...

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Pop your butt over to CalifmomHomeschools for a new post about our unschooling life. I wrote it myself. Heck, I even took the pictures myself.

In other news, I’m getting my bewb’s sinister guest, Mr. Lumpy, removed on February 18th. Just days from now. Like six of them. I can count. It helps me with the homeschooling, dontcha know.

I’ve opted to have Mr. Lumpy removed under local rather than general anesthesia. They expect it will take about an hour for the procedure, which will be done in Kaiser’s Surgical Center, as opposed to the main hospital. This makes me happy, as the Surgical Center is much less hospitally. (Hospitally is too a word. Is so. Because I said so.)

I have to bring a snazzy sports bra to wear home. (Try finding one of those with hooks so you don’t have to pull that damn thing over your head after you’ve just had a chunk taken out of your bewb. Also a cheap one, because you don’t actually do any sports or other activities that would require a sports bra.) Then, it’s a few more weeks of No Heavy Lifting. 

At least this time, there won’t be any catheters involved.

The word on the street is that Mr. Lumpy is most likely a benign asshole, but I don’t care to host more than one asshole on this body. So, Mr. Lumpy is outta here.

My biggest fear I have, aside from the Big C, is that Mr. Lumpy’s absence will leave me even more lopsided than I already am. So, I’ve made Hubs promise I can even the girls out if I emerge looking like I’m a scoop short.

Aren’t you feeling blessed you stopped by today?

Smooches!

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CalifmomHomeschools: New Blog

I've had a private homeschooling blog for a while now, but have started to feel like some of what I write there would be worth sharing with the greater homeschooling community. Most of what I write in our private blog is a log of our days.

My public homeschooling blog will be some of that, glimpses into our days (but certainly not comprehensive of all we do and learn), as well as some of our homeschooling finds and thoughts.

The blog includes my kids' reading logs via Goodreads, a listing of our favorite resources, and homeschooling news from Alltop.

Check out CalifmomHomeschools, and see what you think. Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

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Upside to Homeschooling: NOT Killing Each Other

I'll admit, one of my big fears about having both kids homeschooling this year was their tendency to be the Bickersons. I mean, they go to marital counseling together fairly regularly to work on their shit relationship. That's how much they bicker.

What's transpired so far, though, has been surprising. Since they are together for most of every day, they are forced to deal with each other. It doesn't mean every day is a smooth one, but it does mean that instead of being at each other every moment they're together, they have progressed to having more good times than bad.

Some days, they don't bicker AT ALL. There are whole days now where no one yells, Z-snaps, or growls (me included). Holy crap, this is a new phenomenon.

Most days now include some time with us all snuggled up together reading or watching a movie together.

There are enough hours spent with each other that disagreements get resolved, and the kids move on.

Yesterday, after a morning of totally losing their shit with each other, they didn't just get back to neutral, they were bestest buddies. When we got in the van to run errands, they sat NEXT TO EACH OTHER. On purpose.

When we got home, I checked in with weather.com to make there wasn't a cold front advancing into Hell.

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