Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ode to Ronald McDonald House

Ok, it isn't a real ode, but you won't hold that against me, will you?  I like the sound of the word "ode", but lack the time and energy to actually write one.

Ronald McDonald House has provided a soft place for my family to land since 1999.  We started going to Duke for Timothy's pulmonary and cardiac care when my husband was stationed at Fort Bragg.  At the time, I was a new highway driver, and the drive up there about did me in.  It helped so much to stay overnight at RMH after a long day of appointments and then get up in the morning and take that highway trip back home.  We soon moved across the state and much farther away from Duke but remained Duke patients.  Thankfully, I am now a comfortable highway driver.  However, the 8+ hour round trip on top of a 6 hour visit with four kids would be nearly impossible to accomplish in one day.  I am so thankful for the years of restful nights at RMH.  Our time is coming to a close with them.  Although Timothy will remain a Duke patient for as long as we live in North Carolina, he is aging out of the Ronald McDonald House program.  He will be allowed to stay with them long enough to get through his next cardiac surgery (in about a year).

Each room has a theme and we got a cute princess room this time.  It was perfect inspiration for Little Red Riding Hood's upcoming party.  This room is a pretty good size by RMH standards.  A few years ago, we had to squeeze our family into a room so small that we had kids sleeping on pillows in the closet! You had to crawl over the sea of beds from the doorway.  The size of the room doesn't matter for those of us who are only staying a few days.  You spend most of your time at the hospital or in the common areas anyway.  

One of the things that is so special about RMH is the fully stocked kitchen.  Everyone gets their own space in one of the refrigerators.  There is also a house refrigerator and house stocked pantry from which you are welcome to take food.  In addition, dinner is served most nights.  Volunteers from the community come in and cook lovely meals.  They also have volunteers that come in and hold game nights, bingo night (with prizes), craft nights, and therapy dog visits.  What a relief for exhausted families to not have to worry about dinner or how to entertain their children after a long day at the hospital.

A fish fry and Shrimp Boil!

We are so grateful for the many helping hands that have welcomed us over the years!  Sometimes we have arrived with screaming babies in our arms and other times with worried hearts for a child who could not handle the transitions of RMH and needed to stay at home in respite.  That time the staff provided extra phone cards so I could keep calling home and checking on her.  They really do their best to provide for your every need.

We will be leaving a piece of ourselves with RMH.  Here is a ceiling panel that Tim made in 2003.  It is a work of art from Tim's very own Jackson Pollock period.  It hangs next to dozens of other ceiling panels in the kitchen.  All of this extra care costs the families a tiny $10 a night (less for those who stay a very long time).

This trip was extra special, because we got to visit with my homeschool bloggy friend, Leslie.  Our families have met once before and we had a great time visiting them again.  THANK YOU, Leslie, for hosting our family again.  You really must come our way some day.

Update on Tim ~
The appointment went well.  The doctors decided to do some extra tests since they can see we will be facing more pacemaker surgery in the next year.  Our entire family spent the day wandering from appointment to appointment all over that huge hospital.  I think we walked a few miles.  So far the test results are good and Tim looks healthy.  His heart rate under the pacemaker was 41 beats per minute, finally making him not fully pacemaker dependent.  In other words, if he was in a terrible accident that damaged his pacemaker, we would have time to get to the hospital.  What a nice change after years of being told that damage to his pacemaker would mean doing CPR until we got to the hospital and much less chance of survival than present circumstances.  Earlier in his life, wherever we lived, a rescue helicopter was always informed to be ready to whisk him to emergency care, as he would have less than 5 minutes to live.  This time, the doctors were overall very pleased.  The most important test results will be in later this week.  We are praying that there are no surprises in them.  Also, they changed the activity setting on his pacemaker so he should have more energy to walk Boomer farther.  

Lastly, my kids are so good at waiting room waiting.  I was so pleased with their ability to get through the super long day.  We packed a lunch and took games, coloring books, the Kindle and the laptop with DVDs.  Sometimes they just played imaginary games like the picture above.  They sat in that window sill during one of our longer stops for 2 whole hours.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Tools Do You Need to Homeschool?

Disclaimer ~  I am in no way an expert on this matter, outside of being a homeschool mom for 13 years now.  These are simply my opinions and reactions to discovering that I am an old timer when it comes to homeschooling.  In that sense, I feel that my answer to the question of what does it take to homeschool is well thought out and honest, and I try to impart this when talking to a parent or grandparent that is brand new to or considering homeschooling. While at Duke and Ronald McDonald house this past week I had the opportunity to talk to two brand new homeschool moms and others who were curious about what it really takes to homeschool.  I also feel it is so important to remember that homeschooling is not for every family or child.  It is an option, but not the only good way.
When I tell people that I homeschool, they usually reply that I must be patient and or very organized.  I am not sure I am excellent in either respect.  I do like to be organized and I am always trying to be patient.  Truthfully, I am not sure either one of the above is important to being a homeschool mom.  I also hear some people say that all you need is a library card and the Bible to homeschool.  In some respects that is true, but it is really a pat answer.  There really is more to being a successful homeschool mom than a library card.

Earthquake Simulator

So what are the tools, you ask?

A thirst for knowledge ~  I think this is one of the most important tools to homeschooling.  If the teacher hates learning or at the very least lacks the desire to learn, how is the student to acquire an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  Both teacher and child should seek to know more and ask questions.
Building a dam

Exposure to new things ~  Whether that be new books, new places, new thoughts, new people, new toys or new life skills.  We are always learning. Giving a child a saturated environment sure does help the mind keep growing.
A pulley ride ... which pulley works the best?
Exploration ~ This one takes time, but is so important.  When you are learning with your child about something, it is so vital to really dig in and explore the topic.  There is so much to learn about everything and it is extra fun to explore the world together.

Beautiful Minerals

Wonder ~ To have wonder in the world around you with all that there is to explore and learn.  Kids are naturally filled with wonder.  However, wonder can be messy, time consuming and inconvenient at times.  Grown-ups are filled with wonder, too; it just gets buried under the To Do List at times.  Sometimes we have to schedule wonder in this busy world.  So be it!  Keep the wonder alive in yourself and your children.
How do you separate the water from the plastic pellets?

Willingness ~ You need a willingness to spend huge quantities of time with your children.  In fact, you need to be willing to spend almost all of your time with your children!  This is not to say that you will never have Me Time again.  But for now, the majority of your days and nights will be spent with your children and/or preparing activities for your children.
Exploring Sound

Sacrifice and Perseverance ~ Many things in life take sacrifice and homeschooling in no exception.  It also take perseverance.  Homeschooling is not always easy.  In the last 13 years of homeschooling, we have dealt with unemployment, under-employment,  hospital stays, hundreds of doctor appointments, illnesses, and being foster parents.  However, it is all worth it.  I would not trade homeschooling for a minute more of Me Time or a larger paycheck. 
Sharks and stingrays, oh my!

There is no perfect homeschool ~ Most importantly, I think homeschool moms (and dads) need to have fun and know that homeschooling is a journey and not a race.  Everyday we have dozens of opportunities to impart our love of learning and guide our children on the path of learning.  Even on the poor days/weeks when all of our plans go up in smoke, our children are still learning. We have homeschooled through many crises, and the kids have learned so much during those difficult times.  Sometimes the life lessons are more important than the academic ones.  I love a saying I read recently ~ Don't wait for the storm to pass ... Learn to dance in the rain.  That phrase rings so true for our family.  If we sat and waited for the storms in our life to pass we would miss everything.
Digging for fossils.

All of the photos were taken at the Catawba Science Center.  What a fun place!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

What happens when a dog gets his head caught in the dishwasher?  Your dishes go flying!!

You can see that Boomer knows he is in trouble again!

Good thing we love you so much, Boomer!!!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Our Monet Study

We just completed a study on Claude Monet.  He is one of my favorite artists.  The kids did Monet Puzzles, listened to several stories and books about Monet, did picture studies and watched Linnea in Monet's Garden DVD (one of their all-time favorite DVDs).

To finish off our study of Monet, we painted outside like Monet did. It was a misty day and there was not much morning light.  We talked about light and shadows.  Then we searched for the perfect spot and set up our watercolors and canvas boards.  We all tried our hand at Impressionist art.

We had a nice view of  trees on the edge of some wetlands. 

We then took a nature walk and climbed trees.  My kids love to climb trees and are often above my head. They weren't very high off the ground this time.

This next picture from the park reminds me a little bit of one of Monet's famous pictures.   Of course, this one is not a Japanesse bridge.

We fininshed our morning by sitting on our blanket and reading a picture book about Monet. I feel so blessed to be able to school my children this way.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Linville Cavern

For the past two months, we have really enjoyed learning more about rocks and minerals. We grew crystals, made cave drawings, made a lapbook, read lots of books on the different types of rocks and began the process of polishing our own gemstones. We also watched several videos on fossils, caves, and panning for gold. To finish off our study, we went to a cavern in the region. The three younger kids were too young to remember the last time we visited a cave with visiting guests, so were very excited.  Linville cavern is a pretty small tour, but it is one that we could travel to for a day trip. We set off to see it on a very rainy day. This particular cave had a lot of water flowing through it. We also saw a fault line going straight through the middle of it! We knew there was a fault line, as we've experienced a few small earthquakes in the last decade, but to see the actual fault line under the earth was truly exciting. Apparently, being in a cavern during an earthquake is a safe place to be. Who would have thought it? In fact, the guide was in the cavern at the time of the recent East Coast earthquake and didn't feel a thing or know it was happening. Yet the store above the cave had several things knocked off the shelves and broken. Yikes!

This is supposed to resemble an alligator.

The kids especially liked seeing the fish and hearing the story of the two boys who got lost in the cavern many years ago and crawled their way out following the water.  They were not so impressed with the guide turning all the lights off, however. True darkness!

Do you see the man's face?

The kids also liked hearing the stories about all the people who have hidden in this cavern over the years...everyone from outlaws, to run away slaves, to Confederate and Yankee soldier deserters. They even found a natural fireplace with a chimney. 

A giant cucumber?

It is amazing seeing all of these natural formations. I look forward to taking our kids to other caverns in the next few years, just as my Mom took me to many when I was a child.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sharing September 11th with Our Children

It amazes me that 10 years have gone by since that horrific day.  I was sitting at the table, trying to figure out which American history curriculum to order, when my son called me to come see what was on TV.  He was surfing channels and thought that there was some new horrible movie being advertised that involved a plane going into the Twin Towers.  As we watched in horror, a second plane hit the towers, and we realized that what we were seeing was real.  For many hours after, we were glued to the TV and the phone trying to reach relatives. At the time, we had relatives working in NYC and in Washington, D.C.  Fortunately, they were all safe and sound.

This morning I sat down to watch the "Good Morning America" special.  As those familiar images flashed across the screen once more, my younger children looked on.  I quickly realized that they were becoming scared.  They knew about the tragedy on that day but had never seen the images.  I turned off the TV and shared the day with them in a different way.  After church, we read FIREBOAT and THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS.  We talked about the brave men, women and children who experienced that tragic day.  We also talked about how Jesus would have handled this tragedy.  Another leader of another faith summed it up well.

"Today, as we mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks on New York and Washington DC, let us remember all the innocent lives lost and ponder the continuing impact of that tragic day. September 11th reminds us of the horror we human beings can unleash on ourselves when we allow our human intelligence and powerful technology to be overtaken by hatred. We need to learn from our painful memories of September 11th and become more aware of the destructive consequences that arise when we give in to feelings of hatred. This tragedy in particular has reinforced my belief that fostering a spirit of peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding among the world’s peoples and faith traditions is an urgent matter of importance to us all. We must therefore make every effort to ensure that our various faith traditions contribute to build a more caring, peaceful world."  Dalai Lama

Here is a list of books to share with young children about this day and the Twin Towers in general:
  • FIREBOAT ~ One of my children's favorite books about unsung heroes.
  • THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS ~ This is an exciting story about a man who walked on a tightrope between the towers in the 1970's.  My kids were playing on their own homemade balance beam for hours after hearing this story.
  • THE LITTLE CHAPEL THAT STOOD ~ A sweet story with beautiful illustrations of the chapel that stood in the midst of the Twin Towers and still stands today.
  • 14 COWS FOR AMERICA ~ A story about the gift of cows from the Maasai in Kenya and the far-reaching reactions of love and hope delievered to us from around the world.
  • NEW YORK'S BRAVEST ~ This is a story of fire fighters in the 1840's.  However, it allows for a great discussion on how brave fire fighters and the police are in very scary situations.
  • HE SAID YES: THE STORY OF MYCHAL JUDGE ~ I really want to read this one to my children but have not bought it yet.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    A Day in the Life ~ September Edition

    Welcome to another edition of a day in the life of our homeschool.  Today we all woke up late and tired.  We spent many hours at a doctor's appointment yesterday to deal with ds' allergies and diet.  While there, I let them watch a movie that really scared them.  It was called, Mars Needs Moms.  The kids insisted on sleeping with me (actually, on top of me!) and poor Tom Sawyer's last words as he fell asleep were, "Please don't die, Mommy".  My poor boy.  We were a tired bunch this morning and did not really do anything but sit around until the hot tea soaked into our bones and brains.  The theme this week is science, and we are continuing our study of geology from last month.

    8:30 am ~ We were finally ready to face the day and got our morning chores done.  Since our washer has been broken for about six weeks now, we made plans to go to a neighbor's home to do a load of wash.  Thanks to the generosity of neighbors, my mother and a cheap nearby laundromat, we have not suffered too badly during this season.  If nothing goes wrong in the next week or so, we hope to have the money to replace the water pump in the washer.

    9:00 am ~ We did a load of laundry at our neighbor's house while I read a chapter from Mary Poppins to the children (Literature).  We also did our math work (Math), while at the neighbors waiting on the washer.

    This is one of my favorite stories.  I bought the mug as my souvenir from Disney World.

    10:00 am ~  We returned home.  The kids and I set up our science experiment.  We are trying to grow stalagmites and stalactites (Science).  The kids did a cavern crossword puzzle and worked on a second draft of their reports about our Monday field trip (Language Arts and Science).  (I'll tell about Monday's field trip to a cave in a later blog.)  They also did an Explode the Code page (Language Arts).

    11:00 am ~ We arrived at a doctor appointment for Little Red Ridinghood.  She broke her pinky finger last week.  This is her first medical experience beyond the normal check-up.  She also broke my 21 year record of being a Mother without any broken bones!  Who would have guessed the first broken bone would come from my calmest child, who fell off a chair?

    Here she is getting another x-ray to make sure everything is healing. She had to have her nail removed, and it is very painful. 

    12:30 pm ~ We got back home again.  We had lunch and had a one hour break.  I checked email and blogs.  The kids played on the Wii and played chess.  Chess has become the new addiction around our home.  The kids are playing several games every day.  Timothy is busy teaching the girls all of the rules.  Tom Sawyer has been playing with Timothy for about two years.

    2:00 pm ~ While Timothy was making grain-free dog food for Boomer (yes, we even have a dog with food allergies), the kids and I opened up a very special package from Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was one of our Flat Stanleys!!!  The kids were so excited to see him return.  The family that hosted him did an awesome job!!!  They sent back a really cool book with tons of pictures of his adventures.  The kids were really overjoyed and the timing is perfect.  Their Grandfather will be visiting from Salt Lake City in just 10 days.  I was most awestruck by the thought of a five story library with a floor just for the children's section.  Oh, Stephanie, I could spend days in a place like that!  We did a page for Utah in our States Notebook (Geography).

    3:15 pm ~  We had to hurry out of the house to make it to the new weekly library program geared toward 6 to 12 year olds.  It was designed for homeschoolers but is open to the public.  Since it starts just a few minutes after most schools let out, it was mostly attended by homeschoolers.  I must say, I was really impressed with this program!  I think we will try to get to it as many times as we can.  The theme this week was Bubbles.  They heard bubble poetry (Literature),  saw a bubble demostration, learned the science behind bubbles (Science), made bubble art (Art) and played with bubbles for a long time. 

    5:00 pm ~ We returned home to make dinner and get Timothy off to his fencing class.  The kids spent the evening making creations out of cardboard with Daddy and playing with the neighborhood kids on the trampoline.

    The end of another fantastic day.


    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    They Were Strong and Good ... FIAR

    We really enjoyed rowing through the book, They Were Strong and Good, recently.  This is such a sweet story about the author's grandparents and parents and where and how they lived in America.  This book touches on the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and the importance of hard work.   

    I have been looking forward to the kids being old enough to really understand more of our family history and be able to handle the delicate artifacts we own.  After reading the story, we looked at our family tree on my paternal grandmother's side.  Our certified family tree on that side actually goes all the way back to Charlemagne (!) and was fun for the kids to see.  We then looked at many pictures of family from the late 1800's and early 1900's.  The kids really loved looking at the clothes and wedding dresses.  We unfolded a letter from 1867 and gently felt the paper and looked at the lovely handwriting.  I did not attempt to read the letter since it is faded and so delicate.  My memory is that it was a rather boring tale of someone's gardens.

    We then talked about adoption a bit and how we were so fortunate to know some of our two adopted children's family history.  Last year, we visited Cades Cove from where their family roots come.  I wrote about it in this post.  We looked at a book about Cades Cove and talked about when you are adopted you get to have two family trees.

    In the front of the book is a picture of all kinds of things that represent grandparents and parents in the book.  We decided to do this activity for our own family.  I had the kids pick one item to describe each member of the family and arrange it in a still life.  We then took turns taking pictures of our artistic creation.

    They did an awesome job.  The items were as follows ~ Goldilocks, who loves all things horses, had a horse. Tom Sawyer, who carries a Lego catalog everywhere he goes, had a a bowl of Legos.  Tim was represented by his dog's leash, since they are rarely apart.  Little Red Ridinghood, who loves babies and at one time said she was going to have 36 when she grew up, was represented by a doll.  Dh was represented by his coffee maker (that man loves his coffee).  They chose a patriotic teapot from my teapot collection because I love tea, patriotic knick knacks, and teapots.

    We also talked about what items would represent their grandparents and looked at a few books that showed the development of cities.  Oh, they also listened to Song School Latin, since there were several Latin words in the book.  I just love FIAR books.