Friday, July 30, 2010

Kindergarten wisdom

    I few years ago I put one of those plastic report sleeves up on my refrigerator.  I wrote at the top in permanent marker “Poem of the Week”  and for a while I did a great job of updating it every week.  Then I sort of slacked off and only updated it about once a month.  For the past six months or so the plastic sleeve has sat empty on the fridge, waiting for someone to remember to fill it.  The other night, as I pondered the upcoming start to our sixth year of home schooling, I remembered a poem I had read years ago…

 All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
- by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder.

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK . Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

 I love, love, love this poem!  It may just be our “Poem of the Week” all year.  My fourth child will be entering kindergarten this year and though I will also be teaching 6th grade, 4th grade, and 2nd grade I am most confident about kindergarten, when life is simple and learning is still fun.  I may never perfect teaching the ever increasing complexity of math lessons or the tedious monotony of spelling tests, but as Mr. Fulghum points out, I really am doing all right as long as I teach my children to hold hands and stick together.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Celebrate summer

"Celebrate Summer - Sun drenched days and starlit nights..."
-- Gooseberry Patch

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A long shot...

    I have a friend who loves to shop.  She used to call me regularly from one store or another to tell me about the amazing sales she had come across.  She would always offer to pick things up for me so I would not miss out on the bargains.  I, inevitably, would thank her but decline, telling her that though it was a good deal, I didn’t happen to need whatever item it was, right now.   Though I did not share in it, her excitement over the sales was always kind of cute to me.  She would buy things she didn’t really need just because they were marked down so much and then, after spending sometimes hundreds of dollars, she would come home and tell her husband how much money she had saved him.
    It may seem a bit of a stretch but when I started home schooling I felt a little like my shopper friend.  We came to our decision to home school primarily based on finances.  We knew we could not afford to put (then) four children through expensive Catholic schools but we wanted them to have a Catholic education.  Home schooling was really our only option.  Once I started, though, I came to see so many unexpected blessings.  I got to be like my friend, wanting to share the great news with everyone I knew.  I was so excited about all the benefits that home schooling presented to my family that I wanted everyone to join in, so they too could be blessed.
      Over the years, my friend caught on to the fact that I was not the shopper she is.  She stopped calling me about the bargains, maybe she found someone else to call from the store.  Someone who could really appreciate the sales, like she did.  Over the years, I, too, have stopped feeling like I want to share the news of home schooling with everyone.  The blessings are still there but I stopped appreciating them, somewhere in the midst of whiny kids, mounting papers to grade, disappointing workbooks, and the exhaustion of being all things to all people.  If you have read my blog before, you know last year was a rough year of home schooling for us.  Summer has been a welcome break from the strain of teaching and juggling school and home all at once.  I keep noticing the calendar though.  Time is ticking and we need to start our lessons up again very soon.  Last week, I was overwhelmed with worry about how I might handle school again this year and, in a moment, of desperation I ask Tim to call the Catholic school and see if there was anyway to get at least two of the kids in for the year.   The first day of school is only weeks away and we would need full scholarships.  It was long shot but I thought it was worth a try.  I guess what I was looking for more than anything was confirmation from God.  Was I doing what He wanted in home schooling, or did He have other plans for us now?   Tim got in touch with the school and then we waited.
    As we waited, a million thoughts went through my brain.  Did I really want to send the kids to school?  Would it really be easier having two of them in school and three of them at home?  I would have to juggle home schooling all day and home work in the evening, could I handle that any better?   I pictured my seven year old and five year old in little plaid uniforms setting off to a classroom on the first day of school and was not sure if I thought it was adorable or heart-breaking.  Would I miss them?  Or would I feel an incredible sense of peace and relief knowing they were being educated and not having to worry about messing it up.  Would they love being with other children their age, having recess and buying their lunch in the cafeteria, or would they miss me and their siblings?  Would I like the relative quiet of having only the two oldest and the baby home with me, or would I feel guilty sending the other two away for school?  Would sending two of my children to school make me a failure in God’s eyes? ….Or my own?
    It was only a week.  After not hearing from the school, Tim called to follow up and was told that though there was financial aid available they could not offer full scholarships.  The decision was made- we cannot afford the cost of tuition.  I will have all five children home with me once again.  Amazingly, I am at peace.  I am still concerned about how I will do it all, but really feel like God has given me the confirmation I needed.  He clearly wants me to keep at it, and has the confidence I can do it.  I know that He will be with me helping me through each and every day…each and every minute.   And, there is actually a little part of me that is excited to tackle the challenge of home schooling once again….but not for a few more weeks.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flip-FLOPS and other shoe disasters....

There are shoes everywhere at my house.  Shoes by the front door.  Shoes by the back door.  Shoes down the hall and scattered around the kitchen.  The baby is constantly trying to get a hold of shoes to put them in her mouth.  I am constantly tripping over them all day long.  The “big” kids are constantly losing their shoes, because though they are everywhere, no one can remember where they last left theirs.  It is getting so bad I am almost ready to declare that we all start going barefoot.  Hey, we live in Florida, why not?  Last weekend, the shoe situation got so bad we were practically at that point without the declaration from me….
    We went down to Anna Maria Island, a beautiful island about an hour south of Clearwater to visit with friends who were vacationing there.  When we arrived, I noticed that my 7 year old daughter was wearing a pair of sandals we had received from a friend who had bought them for her daughter (who happens to be almost 10 years old) only to find that her daughter refused to wear them.  They were “new” shoes to my daughter, so of course, she was anxious to show them off, not caring that they were 2 sizes too big.  She was clumping around in them, trying to keep them on her feet but insisting they fit her just fine.  This was not a battle I cared to fight, and anyway they were the only shoes she had with her and we were not going home for new ones.  I chose to ignore the clumping and told her when we got home they would go on the shelf in the closet until she grew into them.  What else could I do?
    After a lovely and busy day with our friends we all collapsed in bed and woke up the next day ready for more fun on the island.  As we were getting ready for the day, I realized that my five year old son had broken his flip flops.  They were beyond any quick repair and so they had to be thrown away.  I seriously considered just letting him go without shoes for the day, our plans mostly consisted of hanging out at the beach and pool but we did want to go out to dinner and, well, he would need shoes for the rest of summer.  So, off I went to the store to buy him a new pair.  Store #1 did not have shoes in his size.  Store #2, thankfully did, but not flip flops which I was hoping for.  I bought him a pair of off-brand “crocs”,  those ugly shoes that feel like they are made from craft foam but cost a whole lot more.  What else could I do?
    A few hours later, we are having lunch with our friends, after playing on the beach for a little while, when my nine year old son told me he left his shoes on the beach.   Are you kidding me?   After lunch, he ran down there and, thankfully, they were still there.  Finally, something worked out for us.  We had another lovely and busy day of the beach and the pool, and all the while I kept my older son’s shoes in sight lest he leave them behind again.  Finally, we were all sunburned and hungry so we decided to go get ready for dinner.  Guess what?  My oldest daughter, the one who should be the most responsible, the most reliable, could not find her shoes.  Anywhere.  We took her back to our room barefoot, she had to borrow a pair of shoes for dinner.  What else could we do?
    In the midst of the whole crazy weekend, Tim stepped on a piece of glass and could not comfortably wear his flip flops.  Thankfully, he is responsible and he had brought an extra pair of shoes.  Unfortunately, even responsible adults get distracted.  He left his flip flops behind when we headed back home on Monday evening.  For now, he is doing without the flip flops.  What else can he do?
    1 weekend.  7 people.  5 shoe crises.  I think it is time.  From now on, I am officially declaring that for the rest of summer-  we are all going barefoot.  It just seems to be the best thing for us to do!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our summer, so far...

Swimming, swimming, and more swimming- my children’s favorite summer time activity and the best way to beat the Florida heat!

Beach days-  more swimming, of course, but also the fun of sand castles, catching little sea creatures, and collecting shells!

Playing together- Lego’s, bike riding, stuffed animals, board games, craft projects, play-doh, and anything else the kids can think of to pass the time and create a huge mess!

Reading- trips to the library every few days, chapter books, picture books, poetry books, magazines- as long as it has words someone in my house will read it!

Play dates and visits with our wonderful friends- pool parties, bowling, sleepovers, giggling, talking, never wanting to have to say good-bye!

Popsicles, ice cream cones, cold lemonade!
Cook-outs, corn on the cob, fresh sweet cantaloupe!

Sparklers, staying up late, sleeping in, suntans, smiles!

No wonder we don’t ever want summer to end…….

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

If you can't stand the heat....

    Our air conditioning went out over the weekend.  July 10th, in central Florida, temperatures soaring into the nineties and there we were with no a/c in the house.  It made for a very tense weekend.  With the excessive heat and the famous Florida humidity, we were all on edge and short tempered.  To add to our irritability, we just had the same thing happen last summer and we have yet to pay off the credit card bill from having that repair work done. 
    It is now Wednesday and I sit here in front of my computer next to the thermostat that reads 88 degrees.  Yes, that is right, 4 days later it is still not fixed!  To make matters worse, we had someone look at the broken unit and it turns out the problem this summer is exactly the same as last year.  We paid $600 to replace a broken part last year only to have the new replacement part go out again this year.  The bill this time, will be another $600.  Like I said, Tim and I have been a little frustrated the last few days.  
    To make the situation bearable, Tim ran out Saturday night and bought a window air conditioner.  Of course, that, too, went on the credit card but it has helped tremendously and the kids have loved camping out on the family room floor, sleeping in sleeping bags in the only cool, comfortable place in the house.  So, we have found a way to beat the heat (sort of) but in doing so, we spent even more money that we hadn't budgeted for.  Ironically, we have been trying to get a handle on our credit card debt.  We vowed to work on paying the credit cards off and yet here we are adding to the mounting debt and hating it, but feeling like we have no other choice.  Home ownership seems to be an unending cycle of repairs and financial responsibilities and things falling apart around us.  I guess we should feel lucky to have a roof over our heads, a safe place to raise our children, and, at least, one room that is not sweltering hot and humid but there are moments I feel anything but lucky.
    The good news is the a/c repair man just showed up.  Tonight we should all be back in our own cozy beds with cool air blowing steadily out of the vents, making Florida a nice place to live again.  As I lay down to sleep tonight, I will try not to think about the next credit card bill or the possibility of going through this all over again next summer, and just be glad we have the wonderful blessing of air conditioning once again.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer reading program

    We packed up about 40 books, shoving them into 3 canvas bags that were about to burst at the seams, slipped our feet into our flip flops, and the kids and I set off for the library.  This scene repeats itself at least once a week at our house, sometimes twice a week.  The library is practically our second home.  This morning, the place was an absolute zoo.  I tried to bend over to get a book off the bottom shelf and bumped into someone.  I tried to flip through a picture book to see if it was worth checking out for my 5 year old and someone bumped into me.  The children’s section usually resembles a ghost town in the middle of the week at 11 am but, today there were people everywhere.  And right in the middle of it all, there was a line of about ten kids, their parents milling around not too far off, awaiting their little plastic prize for a few hours of reading over the last week.   It seems the annual summer reading program has invaded our nice, serene home-away-from-home making it less of a haven and more of a madhouse.  My son, coveting the opportunity to put his hand into the box of junk and pull out a cheap plastic toy, asked me what it was all about.  I explained what it was and told him that, no we were not going to sign up this year, though we have done it in years past.  Then, we quickly picked out another 40 books or so, and got out of the craziness as fast as we could.
    Now, I am certainly not against encouraging children to read.  I completely understand the motivation for a summer reading program, especially at the library.  However, I am a little saddened by it all.   I have always loved to read.  From as far back as I can remember, I have loved books.  I wish that all those children at the library, anxious to receive a reward for spending their free time with a book, would realize what I have always known.  The books, the stories themselves, are enough of a reward.  In fact, they are a much better reward than plastic tops or bouncy balls. 
    I wonder what it is that has convinced our children that reading is only a worthwhile activity if there is a prize attached to it.  We could blame video games, television, and overflowing activity calendars just to name a few- and I’m sure those things absolutely add to the problem.  I fear the biggest detriment to raising readers, though, is the books many children are given when they do decide to read.  I think a steady diet of Captain Underpants, Judy Moody, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid have stifled our children’s minds.   Good books, with thought provoking stories, just pull you in.  They interest you, intrigue you, challenge you to think about things differently and to consider things you may not have thought about before.  They change your perception of the world you live in and open up new worlds to you.  Books are amazing and children will devour them, if they are exposed to the ones that are worth their time.
    So, today at the library, we did not participate in the summer reading program because my children, like me and Tim, love to read for the sheer pleasure of reading.  The incentives would not change that, they would only add to the clutter around my house.  Whether they are rewarded externally for their reading or not, my children will pick up a good book and get lost in it any day of the week and any season of the year.  That, for me is the best reward!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grandparents are so great

    Many of my best childhood memories are from times we spent with extended family.   We were always especially close to my maternal grandparents and I have so many happy memories of time spent with them.  We called them Gugger and Poppy.  For most of my life, most of my mom’s life, and I think even most of their own lives they lived in a little old house with a really big yard on a busy two lane highway in northwestern Pennsylvania.  That house, though old and far from fancy, was such a place of love and comfort.  It was a place of true happiness for me and my siblings.  I remember walking into it after a long drive and immediately feeling the warmth and coziness.  The smell was a mixture of yummy baked goods, Gugger’s apple pie or famous home made bread, and Poppy’s cigar smoke.  The old familiar furniture, Poppy’s lazy boy chair, the fold out sofa on one wall and the other couch on another, the wood end tables with full candy dishes on them, was always the same.  The wallpaper in the kitchen, with spices in muted colors, and the matted down multi colored carpet was too.  It was all so wonderful just because it was Gugger and Poppy‘s.  We would spend hours in the kitchen with Gugger as she made fabulous home cooked meals, always with her baked goodies for dessert.  Or we would sit at the tiny kitchen table playing Scrabble, Yahtzee, or Boggle.  Her small black and white t.v. sitting on a cabinet in the kitchen would be on, tuned to Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.   In the family room, Poppy would be sitting in his chair with his t.v. tuned to Judge Judy or The People’s Court.  He would have an old baseball cap on his head, and several more caps, all sporting rubber bands around the brim to keep them in shape, would sit on the window seat in the dining room, next to his cluttered desk.   Outside that window, next to the long wooden seat, was Poppy’s bird feeder and he’d sometimes sit at the desk watching the birds with binoculars as they came to eat.  At bedtime the sofa bed would be unfolded and my parents would sleep there under Gugger’s comfy crocheted blankets.  My brother would sleep on the other couch nearby.  My oldest sister got a littler sofa bed in Gugger’s cozy little sewing room, which was in the corner of the main floor near the only bathroom in the house.  As the oldest she was the only one who got her own room to sleep in at grandma’s house and I always thought she must be very brave to sleep there with the dress form in the room looking suspiciously creepy in the dark.  My closest-in-age sister and I would get to sleep in Gugger’s bed upstairs.  We would ascend the staircase, lined with decades worth of old National Geographic magazines, and pass Poppy's little room with his high marshmallow-like bed, to get to Gugger’s room.  I loved the sloped ceilings of the little upstairs, which was really just a finished attic with two bedrooms that had curtains in place of doors and a short hallway between them.  I don’t know how my sister and I got so lucky to get the best bedroom in the house but Gugger’s bed was always so warm and comfortable and smelled clean and fresh like fabric softener.   My sister and I would lay there, rubbing each other’s backs and talking.  I remember stacks of books in the corner, old black and white pictures of my mom and her brothers atop the wooden wardrobe and always the sound of traffic rushing by on the busy street outside the little tiny window.  Whenever I hear the sound of traffic it still fills me with a strange but comfortable feeling of serenity.
The only thing about Gugger and Poppy’s house that wasn’t warm and cozy was the dark, cold cellar.  To get to the cellar you had to go down a steep, creaky staircase with each step covered in unmatched scraps of carpet.  The cellar wasn’t like our basement at home, it was truly a cellar, cold, damp, and really scary.  There were shadowy corners that I never, in all my years of visiting, ever went into.  I heard there was an old half built go-cart in one of those corners, but I was never brave enough to check for sure.  The laundry room was down in the cellar and sometimes I would go down with Gugger to watch her throw a load of clothes in the washer or get clean clothes out, to hang on the line in the yard to dry in the wind.  My grandpa’s work shop was there too, smelling strongly of gasoline with tools and jars of nails and screws on the workbench.  There were piles and piles of empty cigar boxes saved for years because Poppy never knew when he might need one for storing little things.  There was the big chest freezer full of enough frozen meat to feed an army.  And there was a small closet that Gugger called her “fruit cellar”.  It had a light that somehow turned on when you opened the door and turned off automatically when the door shut.   Whenever I was sent there to fetch a dusty can of vegetables or fruit, I would shudder at the thought of that door closing on me and I would hurry back up the stairs to safety as quickly as I could. 
    The sprawling yard that spread in every direction outside grandma and grandpa’s house was as exciting as the old house itself.  Poppy was a bit of a pack rat and his yard was a testament to that.  He had a rusty black truck with splitting tires, a few broken down boats, their wood rotting away over the years, a tiny musty camper, an empty boat trailer and two VW Bugs in various spots around the yard.  All these, except for the black truck which was filled to the brim with junk, provided hours of fun, imaginative play for me, my siblings and cousins.  We’d sit at the wheel of the “Love Bugs” pretending we were racing, or in the boats imagining we were miles out at sea.  We would cook up bits of mulch in the camper, and climb on the boat trailer.  We would play “Mother May I” and “Red Light, Green Light” in the big field of the side yard or venture down the long hill in the back to the rushing creek that my older cousin had convinced me was all that separated Poppy’s yard from the country of China.  Just before the crest of the hill was Poppy’s garden, full of fresh vegetables and surrounded by wooden stakes connected by string meant to keep the bunnies out.  There was a clump of trees that formed the perfect playhouse, complete with two rooms and a few pieces of hardly recognizable metal lawn furniture.  Next to that was a little ring of stones around what Gugger said was a tea garden but just looked like a bunch of assorted green weeds.   I cannot begin to count the hours I spent playing in that wonderful old house and yard during my growing up years.  We moved around a lot as my dad climbed successfully up the corporate ladder but Gugger and Poppy’s house was the one constant in our life, the one place that was always familiar, always welcoming.  As much as I loved that old house, I now realize it wasn’t so much the walls, with their faded wallpaper and old fashioned paneling or the ceiling with its peeling paint and decorative metal register that made the house so precious to us all, it was the love of Gugger and Poppy that filled it, always there to be shared and to make each of us feel valued, accepted, and truly special.  In fact, no one in the world has ever made me feel as special and loved as my grandparents did when I was a child visiting them in their tiny, old house. 
    That old house was sold a few years back, after we lost Poppy to kidney disease.  Gugger, much to our delight, decided in 2004 to move to sunny Florida and settled just about an hour north of us in the Tampa Bay area.  For five years she lived close and my children were so blessed to have her be a part of their lives, building as strong a bond with her as I have always had.  When she was living near us we used to see her quite regularly.  We would go visit her, take her to the grocery store, and spend nearly every holiday with her. Then, last year Gugger decided to move back to her hometown in Pennsylvania.  She is now living close to her old friends, the church she has belonged to for at least 50 years, and extended family she hadn’t seen much of while living down here.  We miss her terribly but know she is happy to be home again. 
    This week, for the first time since her move, she has come back for a visit.  She has had the chance to meet our baby for the first time and to see how the other children have grown and changed.  We have had the chance to spend time with her, and share another holiday- celebrating the Fourth of July with her and my parents at their house over the weekend.   I’m not sure if they realize it but the bond my children and my grandmother have with each other means the world to me.  What a gift it is to watch the love span four generations and to know that my children are as surrounded by the affection of extended family as I was growing up.  The relationship they have with their great-grandmother is close and loving and I count that among my greatest blessings, along with the fact that I, too, share in the love and closeness.  There is just truly nothing like the bonds of family love and togetherness to make me see God at work and to fill me with gratitude for His abundant goodness.


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