Now She’s Done It!

Em-adding up her money

There’s nothing quite like returning to homeschool with a bang and a burst of energy.

As Em tackled subtracting decimals for homeschool this month, I began to read.

First in line, The One and Only Ivan, our current morning reading book. As you can see from the stack, we aren’t hurting for books to read. Heck, I’ll be lucky to get through all of these in a year or more!

I tackled reading from The History of Absolutely Everything, as well as two profiles of famous women in history and science, before moving on to Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens.

However, it was my addition of The Toothpaste Millionaire, and the mention of money that reminded Em of her plans for someday moving out…

“All of us are going to rent a big house and move into it as soon as we turn eighteen, so I need to start saving money.”

“I see,” I said, nodding. “Well, you might consider putting your savings into your savings account so it can earn interest.”

“What is interest?”

“It’s the money that the bank pays you for storing your money with them.” She blinked at me in confusion. “Here, let’s look at your account balance in Quicken.”

I pulled up her savings account and started explaining it. “So here you will see that we put in $100 each month into your account. We will do this until it reaches at least $6,000 worth of payments from us since we have borrowed from it in lean times.” She nodded, “And here are the interest payments that you get from Goldman Sachs.”

Note: I highly recommend everyone consider opening a savings account online with Goldman Sachs. They pay the highest interest rates that you can get on a savings account, currently 2.02% instead the laughable .2% through brick and mortar banks. Goldman Sachs, unlike CIT, automatically raises your interest rate each time the rate increases.

Her eyes widened, “Wait a minute, I earned $2.77 last month just from having my money in the bank?!”

I smiled, “Yep.”

She ran out of the room and came back with all of her money. She counted it out slowly. “So I could put this money in the account, and it would earn interest and give me even more back?” 

“Yep.” I paused and then offered her one heck of a deal. “I tell you what, I’ll make you an offer you won’t find anywhere else. For every dollar you decide to put in the bank, for as long as we are financially able to do this, I’ll match it with 50 cents.”

Her eyes widened and she reached for the notebook she had been doing her pre-Algebra in. A few minutes later, she had added:

$52.50 (amount she had in cash) + $30 (profit sharing for the month of December) + the 50% match = $123.75

“Really, Mama? You would do that?” 

“Yes, I would, because I want more than anything for you to make good choices. If you learn how to save now, to put aside a portion of your money, I’m willing to reward that. It will get you in the habit for the future. And hopefully save you from the cascade of bad choices your dad, me, and even your sister have made over the years.”

We settled on setting aside $10, $15 when you remove the 50% match, she handed over her $42 and I scheduled a deposit for the first of December for $108.75. She hugged me in excitement, I’ve rarely seen her this giddy, and from the looks of it, her account will crack $2,000 by the end of next month. 

I also planted a seed of entrepreneurship in her head. “Imagine if you were able to do a lemonade stand at the farmer’s market next summer and I was still able to do the 50% match?”

She danced a jig, threw her arms around me, and hugged me. “Thank you, Mama! Thank you!”

I hope what most parents hope for – for a healthy, well-adjusted, capable child. But those lean years, they stick with me. I never want her to feel that desperation, the stress, the sleepless nights and interminable days filled with fear over how to afford the very basics of life. 

I remember how jealous my older daughter was when Em was born. “She’s going to be spoiled.”

Spoiling a child is not something that I’m usually accused of, but I understood why she said it. She had seen what real life was like, had her face rubbed in reality and she didn’t like it, not one bit. Life can be hard, and it is often especially cruel to those who hope for more than just a simple 9 to 5 existence. She knew that Em would have more things than she had growing up, more opportunities, and above all, an intact family unit. 

But those things don’t make a spoiled child. And while I do go out of my way to make sure Em has what she needs (and sometimes what she just wants), I can definitely be sure she isn’t spoiled. 

I was so proud of her today. She jumped on my offer and made use of it and I can’t wait to see how quick her savings balance grows!


Posted in Entrepreneurs & Entrepreneurship, Homeschool - General | Leave a comment

Look Who is Back! And Look Who is Three!

Back in the States

After a full month in Europe, my beautiful girl is back home and we were both so relieved and happy to have her home.

Em and her grandmother traveled through France, Germany and Belgium. They saw castles, stayed in buildings built in the 15th century, and Em said her favorite city was Budapest.

It was a fantastic opportunity for her and I was so happy she got to go. In a few years, I really hope I can make it there. My plans to step off the plane in Europe on my 50th birthday have been delayed slightly, but I think it is still possible a year or two after that.

Third Birthday and Potty Training!

And just days after my world traveler returned, our newest addition, Little Miss turned three! It’s hard to believe that it has been eight months since she came into our lives. 

And a week before her birthday, after weeks (and months) of talking about potty training and her practicing it at school, we finally made the jump. I reached into the drawer we keep her pull-ups in and realized there were only two left. I placed them on a high shelf and announced, “No more diapers, it’s time for big girl panties!”

I had purchased two seven-packs of Disney princess panties to get her started. This kiddo LOVES Disney princesses! And she was excited to be wearing big girl panties.

I caught her rummaging through the drawer a couple of times with a panicked look on her face, and there have been some accidents since, but she is potty-trained at this point.

I think the diapers had been kind of a convenience, at least for her. She was used to the daycare folks putting her on the potty and her being able to go in it, but at home she would wait until after she eliminated in her diaper to tell us. I guess if you look at it from her point of view it made sense.

I also had her help clean it up when she made a mess and that really accelerated things.

  • Going in your panties/pants is quite uncomfortable compared to diapers
  • Having to help clean it up sucks

Once she realized it was easier to just go on the potty, it was a slam dunk. We haven’t had one single night of a wet bed either. I guess there are benefits to waiting for a child to be past the point of ready.

I’m looking forward to her 3-year check-up and what the doctor has to say about her growth in the past year. She is still very small (she wears mostly 18 month clothes), but her appetite has improved and her speech is much more clear. 

She sees her biomom each week and for now, the goal is reunification not adoption. It isn’t easy, not for her, not for us, and not for her mom. But in the end, we keep on trucking. It will be late February or March before the next court date.

She is a sweet little girl, however, and deserves the best. We try to give her that every day.

Homeschool Returns on Monday

Taking a full month off of homeschool wasn’t as big a deal as it was to take a month off of music classes. Since Em’s return we have upped her practice schedule on the cello to twice per day. Harmony Project, the music program she belongs to, will be having their concerts the first and second weekends in December (they’ve grown so much they have to divide up the performances) .

Since Em returned late last week, and Thanksgiving was this week, it just made sense to wait and resume on Monday most of our studies. I’m looking forward to it. 

We are dropping the Word-of-the-Day studies (she hated them) and will be focusing again on math, both basics and the pre-algebra exercises.

I so enjoy our reading time in the morning as well, and we will be doing that along with a myriad of other activities. Mainly I’m just happy to have my girl back and I’m busy planning some fun activities in the weeks to come. 

Bring on Science City, hikes in nature, and plenty of adventure!

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Hope Rises, So Does Fear

Em and Little Miss examining the wild violets

Yesterday was the six month meeting with the Family Support Team – a group of professionals as well as foster and bioparents. Well, at least that’s the hope, unfortunately Little Miss’s mom has only attended the first of these meetings, just three days after Little Miss was removed from her home in April.

Six months. We don’t talk about it much, we just run through our routines.

6:30 (or so) Little Miss wakes up. She’s an early bird like me. By 8 a.m. on weekdays she is at daycare, my husband at work, and I’m back home fixing breakfast for the rest of us – my dad, Em (who is currently in Germany, lucky girl), and me.

The evenings, which started off so rocky, are now much smoother. Little Miss definitely had food fears, mainly that she wouldn’t be fed, and could be a bit of a handful at dinnertime. We would rush about getting the meal ready with her chanting “Hungee!” at full volume, sitting in her booster seat.

Nowadays she knows we will feed her and is a lot more patient. This has lessened our stress levels considerably. By 8 p.m. it is time for bed and she usually goes peacefully after brushing her teeth and being tucked in.

Fostering is so different from the traditional sort of parenting – I honestly had no idea how much so until I found myself in the middle of it. 

The biggest issue is that of ever-present question of impermanence. How long will they be there? How do you provide for their needs, especially their emotional ones, and protect your own heart?

It is one thing to have children in your life that you know will move on, it is another to be sure they will be with you forever. And I’ll be honest here, I had convinced myself that she would be leaving us. I did it to protect that spot inside of me that is fragile, that remembers every hurt, that fears loss and loneliness and rejection. In believing she would leave, I have backed off, given half of my heart, provided for her diligently, but as one who must someday say goodbye would do.

Yesterday’s meeting changed that assumption, however. And I now find myself in a place I would rather not be. It is a land of unknowns. Where things could go one way, or they could go another.

In truth, we have been in this place from the start. Nothing has changed. But as the GAL (Guardian ad Litem) asked us questions about Little Miss and then turned to the bio side of things, we learned that:

  • biomom is not in compliance with the actions she needs to complete to get her child back (drug testing, counseling, regular visits)
  • extended biofamily in another state (who had been burning up the phone lines the first couple of months trying to get Little Miss) have been denied kinship foster

The GAL asked us if we were interested in adoption. Well, actually my husband beat her to it.

We showed the team the notebook we send back and forth with the parent aide to the biomom. They were impressed at this and the GAL commented on it a couple of times.

The notebook was my idea. Of course, I am a writer after all! I thought it would be good to create a connection and have her see us not as an enemy, but as people who just want to help care for her child. I update her on different things and ask her questions about Little Miss. She has responded well to it.

The team discussed the other children, four of them, who were taken from biomom when she lived in Oklahoma eight years ago. She never got them back. 

At the end of the meeting, we left and went to lunch. My husband was excited, heck, so was I, because there’s hope. A lot of it. Biomom has six more months to get it together. If she doesn’t, they will begin moving towards termination of parental rights. And if biofamily has already been denied, then we have a chance at adoption.

So there’s hope, and there’s also a great deal of fear. Part of me wants to bond, deeply, with this little girl. And part of me, still wounded and raw from the rejection of my firstborn, is terrified of being hurt again. 

Years ago, still reeling from my second divorce, I reconnected with a guy I had been head over heels for in high school. He was flying into town and a co-worker asked me, “After what your ex-husband did, how can you ever trust a man again?”

I remember telling her, “Life is too short to never fall in love again.”

I married that man and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Huh, perhaps I should take my own advice.

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I Love This Child So Much!

A “new” outfit we just bought at Savers. She’s grown two inches in eight months and was busting out of all of her clothes!

This past month has really seen some changes – maturity, thoughtfulness, responsibility and accountability. I want to share these with you because it feels like they activated all at once!

No Arguments or Foot-Dragging Over Homeschool

And believe me, I’m grateful. There is nothing quite like arguing with your child over homeschool studies. Especially when I’ve got a dozen other things I could be doing that I hold off on because she’s the important one here and our years together are few.

We manage to get our homeschool studies out of the way in around three days, two if we really apply ourselves, and Em is jumping in, ready and willing every morning.

Em at the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

“No, I Need to Keep Practicing.”

Today, a day after receiving a flu shot and three immunizations (with two more to go), Em was moving slow and her legs were incredibly sore. Despite this, when she sat down to play her cello, despite her obvious discomfort, she continued to practice through the pain.

“If it’s too much, you’ve practiced for about fifteen minutes, you could stop now,” I said to her.

“No, I still need to work on these two sections. They don’t sound right.”

And part of me is wondering where the heck my child is, while the other part is petrified she is ready to leave home and strike out on her own.

She’s 12, I think I have a few more years, but still!

Wamego, Kansas has Totos on Parade like Kansas City has Cows on Parade. Little Miss was unimpressed.

Ready and Prepared

Whenever we have places to go and I know we need to work homeschool into the outings, I remind her to look at her weekly study schedule and pack accordingly. 

And shockingly she has not only prepared, but over-prepared. Like yesterday at the doctor’s office.

“I can’t get the internet to work,” Em said, frowning at my smartphone, “So I’ll have to do the Words of the Week later. I’ll just go ahead and the Math Basics review now instead. I made sure to pack it in case I got done with the Words of the Week early.

Self-directed, organized, and motivated.

Knock me over with a feather.

It seems we have entered a new age of our homeschooling parent/child relationship. It’s rather harmonious. When there are misunderstandings, we both explain where we were coming from, and apologize to each other. I remain so appreciative for that – that we communicate so well – and that we work well together.

Crazy Messy But She Loves It

The other day I walked into the craft/Art Room that is directly off our dining room. It is inevitably messy. We clean it up, turn around, and it’s a mess again.

Now that we have my dad going to the senior center during the day and don’t have the television screaming obscenities and other quality daytime entertainment (he loves Paternity Court and Jerry Springer), Em has been making herself at home in the room, despite the mess.

Today she said to me, “Mom, I just love this room. I find the neatest things in it and I have fun thinking of creations I can make with all of the different treasures.”

Today she was experimenting with melting crayon shavings into these tiny glass bottles and then putting them on necklaces for her friends. 

I realized suddenly that it didn’t matter that the room was messy or without any real organization. She liked it, enjoyed hunting through the supplies and discovering new things to craft with. I have given her what I so desperately would have loved to have as a child.

Re-Framing Our Reality

It’s real easy to look at the negatives or to focus on shortcomings – our culture expects parents to be perfect – always patient, loving, and understanding. Especially moms. We have to somehow make a living, keep a perfect house, raise our kids just so, and do it with a smile on our face.

The reality is that life is messy, cluttered, disorganized (yes, even me!) and dear lord, oh so hectic.

No matter how much I cut from my schedule, I still don’t have time for it all. 

But I know this:

  • I have a happy, well-loved child who knows she is loved
  • She makes me smile every day
  • She is a good friend to others and other moms (and dads) really like her!
  • She is someone who I am so very proud of

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Cleanliness is Close to…

If only I had thought to do a “before” shot of this closet.

My girl is a lot like me. 

She has a sweet tooth.

She’s a picky eater (thankfully it is something she should grow out of).

Her room is ridiculously messy (something I also grew out of).

She wanted to show how easily she can now fit into the space now that it is clean.

The mess creeps out of containers, boxes, drawers, and spreads about the floor. It is a litter of trash, treasure, outgrown toys, silly things she just had to have, and art projects. An industrial size container of fake blood is surrounded by tissues, dotted red. A small sampling of soap flakes she has grated with the use of a penknife have slid off of their paper towel and are now on the floor.

Clothes twist around and under furniture.

“Clean it up,” I tell her. And she does…sort of.

This goes on for days. She keeps her door closed so I can’t see just how bad it is. Every surface is clogged with a mind-bending menagerie of stuff. Her shelves are unusable, her desk as well, and she sits hunched over her laptop on the ground complaining that her neck is hurting.

Her dresser was next on the hit list and she has already made enormous progress.

“Clean it up!” I tell her and she shuffles about, filling sacks with trash, or things to donate.

“Is it good enough now?” She asks, desperate to return to Skyping her friends and playing on Minecraft or watching YouTube videos.

I finally had enough today. I sat down in her room and she twitched nervously. She knew what was coming.

It just has the bottom shelf left to organize…

“Every inch of this room needs to be cleaned,” I tell her, and she hovers on the brink of tears. “This mess, this is chaos. You don’t know where anything is. You can’t play with what you do have because there is stuff everywhere. “

Her lip trembles. The job is overwhelming, but it has to be done.

“Look, you start in one place, then move to another. Little by little it will get done. Let’s start here, with your closet.”

And now she is really upset. Mainly with herself as she tells me later. Tears and shaking and defensive, even as she nods and gets to work. “Let’s start with the top shelf. Pull everything out, decide what you want to keep, what is trash and what should be donated.”

She doesn’t say much, but I see that the hanging organizer I gave her last week has a couple of pairs of shoes in it. “Hey, you made use of the organizer I gave you. That’s a great solution for your shoes! How many do you have and do they all fit?”

She perks up and we move through the mess, winnowing out the unwanted, folding and putting away the wanted.

We discover about a pound of mouse crap – reinforcement of my edict to no longer allow foods in her room. They have been nesting in the closet, well hidden beneath piles of clothes, shoes, and random stuff. She clears it, we vacuum, and she grins at me.

“It looks awesome now, Mom!”

I grin back. “It does, doesn’t it?”

I sit in an armchair and read three chapters of Mousenet, the book I’m reading a chapter at a time to her each weekday morning. She tackles her bookshelf next.

It will take days. But she understands the need for it. “Every thing must have its place, otherwise, why is it in your room?” 

She finds a box of seashells. “We need to find a way to display these. They shouldn’t be hidden away in a box.”

And as I write this post, she appears at my desk, “Do you want some grape colored eyeshadow?” She asks, tilting a mints tin towards me filled with a loose powder, yet another one of her experiments. 

I decline and she bends down and draws a line of purple sparkle across Little Miss’s forehead. “You are the chosen one!” Then she picks her sister up and holds her up high above her head and begins to sing the song from The Lion King.

Hey, at least the room is finally getting clean.

Posted in Challenges, Humor, Parenting Techniques, Responsibility | Comments Off on Cleanliness is Close to…

Three Day Homeschool, Sly James and the Zoo

Monday and Tuesday were “homeschool free” days, but we’ve been packing in the learning today!

Our “Three Day” Homeschool Week

Balancing work with homeschool is tricky. I had originally envisioned working in the afternoons and homeschooling in the morning, but things don’t always work out the way you would like. Some folks need housecleanings on certain days, and in one case, needed a morning not afternoon cleaning. So I found myself staring at three days each week (which vary) as our prime learning days. 

Learning occurs on the other days, just not as intensively. On the “off” days we have cello practice, I read aloud to her, Em practices her math basics (3-minute timed tests), and she reads independently 1-2 chapters per day.

Most of the rest of the work can be finished in the three days that we have set aside. I’m rather amazed at what we can get accomplished in those few days!

Soaking wet in the rain at the zoo. We had a fabulous time!

Learning Averages and Using Them as Encouragement

I mentioned that Em practices math basics. These are three-minute timed tests in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. At the end of the three minutes I grade for errors, eliminating any incorrect answers, and tally up the number of correctly answered questions.

Today’s tally was 26 correct answers out of 26 questions answered. She scores very high on accuracy.

We then divide that number by 3 in order to learn the average number of questions answered in one minute, and then by 60 to learn the average number of seconds it takes for her to answer a question.

That happened to be 6.9 seconds today. We compared it to a subtraction test from last week, which came in at 7.8 seconds per question.

She subtracted 6.9 from 7.8 to learn that her average time had improved by nine-tenths of a second!

“Look Mom, I’m doing better!” she crowed.

She’s understanding why averages are important and how they can indicate performance.

A 2 1/2 Hour Mathematics Slogfest

I mentioned last week that after a page of dividing fractions in the Grade 6 Pre-Algebra book I had decided that once per week was more than enough. It had taken us nearly two hours!

Today was worse because there were more four additional problems AND after double-checking our answers with the answer key I realized we had solved two of the problems incorrectly.

We started work at 8:30 and finished at 11:00. By the time we did, Em was glassy-eyed and unable to manage even the most basic of math equations. She…was…DONE. I told her that she had passed a point where it was time to stop due to diminished returns. Thankfully, we finished a few minutes later.

One of the things we focused on, and that got Em really excited, were the shortcuts you can take in math by breaking things down. Take 40 x 15, for example. It breaks down into 40 x 10 plus 40 x 5. Last week when I began to show her these leaps, she was confused, but she has quickly caught on. I doubt I teach it like a math teacher would, but we keep going round until she understands me. In the end, if she understands me, and she understands the math, it’s all good.

Em Met Our Mayor!

I love that she was wearing her “I Am Invincible” shirt

After we finished the Pre-Algebra slogfest, she settled into creating some art while I read from 7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens, Don’t Know Much About History, Women Who Dared, and we discussed a poem from Faber’s Book of Beasts.

That last one was interesting, it mentioned Reynard the Fox (a trickster fox) that appeared in Gunnerkrig Court graphic novels. While I was reading, my phone had been dinging with messages that turned out to be my husband, leaving work early and having to walk home.

We drove along the route and found him, coaxed him into the van so that we could go off to Mission Taco Joint for some of our favorite tacos and street corn. Mmmm. Soooo good!

Just as we are digging in, who should walk in the door and sit down at the table nearest us? Why Kansas City’s very own mayor, Sly James!

Em was fascinated and wanted to meet him, so Dave took her over, introduced himself as Lykins Neighborhood Association president, and then introduced Em to Sly.

It took Sly about half a minute to ask, “Why aren’t you in school, young lady?”

And of course, she told him she was homeschooled. I explained that she had truly earned a lunch out, having slogged through 2 1/2 hours of pre-Algebra and he asked her how she had felt about it. 

“Well, it was a lot, but there is a definite sense of accomplishment,” she answered. “I worked hard at it, and it was a lot of math!”

She got a few photos with him and he was kind enough to give her a pin, told her she was articulate and encouraged her in her interests (science and art).

This is her “Oh my gosh, I got a freaking pin from the Mayor!” look

And I figure I can put a nice big check mark by the Social Studies box for the day. She just met a part of our local government!

She spied a tiny turtle swimming in the pond with the swans near the otter tank

Fun (in the rain) at the Zoo

After lunch we dropped my husband off and headed to the zoo to use our free pass. Kansas City residents get a certain number of free passes to the zoo, and we were eager to finally use one of ours. They are only good for weekdays and during the school year she was always in school on days I had off.

Em was very excited about seeing the stingray tank. In fact, it was the first place we went to and we stayed for nearly an hour. She was even able to feed them a fish that one of the zoo employees slipped her while whispering “Don’t tell anyone I let you do this, okay?” 

The rays were absolutely magnificent, and we even managed a few pets of the nocturnal leopard sharks (a few oddballs were out and about) and they felt like lizards skin, very rough.

We took the tram to Africa and the rain began to come down. We kept on despite this, much to Em’s immense joy. 

She so enjoyed our visit and we left just as they were announcing the zoo would be closing. 

Snack time at the zoo…

Public School Was an Amazing Reset

I know I’ve said this before, but I have say it again. Having Em attend a year of public school was beneficial in so many ways. Not only did she have amazing teachers, but I quickly realized I hadn’t been doing just an “okay” job – she was obviously in line with expectations. While I am sure there was some level of adaptation she needed to make, her abilities were there and ready to be utilized.

It has led to a far more relaxed state of mind for ME this year. Sure there was the initial, “Oh my god, am I choosing the right subjects to study?” panic. And I’m still not totally happy with history, but we are already slipping right into the swing of things and it is…glorious.

If I hadn’t had to take a step back and question everything, I wouldn’t be as certain that I was doing the right thing now.

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The Story Behind the Numbers

“I hate math.” How many times did I say it when I was a child? Too many to count.

In fact, I continued to repeat the mantra well into college, tears of frustration welling up in my eyes as I stared at the Algebra textbook and wondered how in the hell I was ever going to get through it.

And no, I’m not a mathematician now, it isn’t that kind of heartwarming story. You put Trigonometry in front of me and I’ll laugh and walk away (and that’s the best-case scenario).

But I learned how important it was and why it mattered when I didn’t have enough pennies to rub together, when I was down to my last twenty dollars and trying to come up with rent, food, the water bill…whatever. And somewhere in the second or third rendition of College Algebra, all of those letters and numbers stopped rotating around in a tornado shaped funnel and actually started making sense (at least in the moment).

The pens she almost bought…

Smarter Shopping

The other day, Em and I were at Target. “Oh wow! Mechanical pencils with colored lead! Mom, I have to have these!”

The look on her face held excitement as she began to rummage in the purse she had actually remembered to bring for once.

“Now, hang on kiddo, these are really expensive.”

“I’m paying for it Mom, it’s okay.” The stubborn look on her face told me she wanted it bad.

“Look, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll bet you I can beat this price, these suckers are over $15! I tell you what, don’t buy these, we will take a picture of them, and I’ll look them up on Amazon and see if I can’t get a better deal and I’ll pay for them one way or the other. You just have to wait two days for them to come in.”

She reluctantly agreed and we snapped the photo and headed home.

Instead of $15.79 for six colors, I found a set of eight different colors for just $10.53. Em squealed and hugged me, “Mama, you are the best!” Two days later she was eagerly ripping the package open. Each pencil had 4 (heck, maybe it was just two) leads inside and I immediately wondered how fast they would run out.

Em wasn’t far behind with that thought and we both remembered seeing lead refills listed as well. I told her I would look into it, and a week later, as I was shopping for something else, I thought of them again and looked them up.

I typed in Pilot colored lead refills and this result instantly came up…

I noticed a second listing for a cheaper price and investigated further…

It turned out that the first one listed, the one that cost $15.92, had just six leads of each color, versus ten leads of each color in the cheaper one. I bought it and it arrived today.

Not So Fast, Kid

Em walked into my office and spied the leads sitting on my desk. “You got them!” She started to reach for them and I shook my head.

“Uh uh, you have to answer a math question for me before you get these.”

“What? No way!”

“Yep.” I pointed to the board…

“It’s not important. We don’t need it!”

I laughed, “Sorry kid, but that’s not going to get you these lead refills.”

She groaned, “What is then?”

I wrote down the math questions and we worked through them.

“So, wait, the slightly more expensive one was actually a lot more expensive and for less leads!” Her eyes were shining and she had a slightly shocked look on her face. “In fact, you could get…” she scribbled for a moment, “the second set of leads for less than half of what the first ones would cost!”

I smiled at her, “And that’s why math is important. At first glance, sure the second one is what you would pick and you would think, ‘Well, I saved a couple of bucks,’ but really you just paid half of the price of the first one. Math tells us stories, shares secrets, if only we know where to look.”

So that’s a win for this homeschooling mom. My kiddo wanted those lead refills so bad that she did math at 9:00 at night, on a weekend.

Bonus points – I got a huge hug and “best mom ever” bestowed upon me before she skipped off to her room with lead refills in hand.

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The First Week of Sixth Grade

Em working on her 6th grade composition and critical thinking

A Decent First Day

Ah, the return to homeschooling!

It certainly had its fits and starts. I knew I had a cleaning later in the afternoon and I also had some errands to run, but I expected we had the morning free.

We started out, as we usually do – me reading to Em in the library. We are nearly halfway through Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose and enjoying the book. After I read the requisite chapter, Em practiced her cello. It is in dire need of tuning and we will need to bring it to the open house at Harmony Project tomorrow to get it up to snuff. Meanwhile, it sounds rather…different.

We had just settled into our first spelling test when my dad blew his whistle downstairs. Apparently he missed his ride to the senior center. So we put it down, drove him to the senior center, and ran errands since we were out, before returning for a snack, and to unpack a box of fresh hardy succulents we will be planting in the yard this week for our science project.

Em missed six of 25 spelling words. They were little mistakes, mainly caused by nervousness, and she knocked them out of the way the next day, scoring 100% on her second attempt. That means she is done for the week!

Dividing fractions – be afraid, be very afraid!

Basic Schedule

Our schedule is as follows:

  • 6:30 Wake up and Mom reads to Em
  • 7:00 Practice cello for 20-30 minutes
  • 7:30 Tidy room, do chores
  • 8:00 Fix and eat breakfast
  • 8:30 Begin homeschool
  • 11:30 Wrap up homeschool and eat lunch

It doesn’t always work out like that. Because I’m running my housecleaning biz, the schedule fluctuates, sometimes dramatically. For instance, two out of every four Mondays are “homeschool free days” in which all that Em is required to do is practice her cello and read 1-2 chapters of a book of her choice.

One out of every four weeks we don’t have a spelling list to practice because both the Monday and the Tuesday have back to back cleanings and it would be Wednesday before we could tackle the list. That’s not enough time if it is a particularly demanding list.

Evaluate and Adjust

This week and next are a process of evaluation and adjustment. Take Pre-Algebra for example. We tackled dividing fractions today and it took an hour and a half to work our way through twelve questions! We wrote them out on the board, and there was some fair amount of teeth-gnashing and wailing, but we got through it. It did make me realize that I was unwilling to do that three times a week. Once is enough, thank you very much!

So Far It Looks Like This…

Here is what I gave Em to read over:

Fall 2018 Homeschool

Schedule, Areas of Study and Expectations

Mondays: variable

One Monday (in a 4 week period) you will accompany me to the Anderson’s and read to the littles while I clean. We will do the rest of homeschooling in the afternoon.

One Monday (in a 4 week period) will be regular homeschooling in the morning.

Two Mondays (in a 4 week period) will be a “free day”

Tuesdays: Every other Tuesday from 8:30 – 11:30, on those same Tuesdays we will go out on a field trip as well.

Wednesdays: mix of home curriculum and LEARN co-op classes – once every 3 weeks I have to clean the Chapman house in the afternoon

Thursdays: variable

Every other Thursday – homeschool from 8:30 – 11:30

Alternating Thursdays – independent study

Fridays: Every Friday from 8:30 – 11:30

Language Arts:

  • Faber’s Book of Beasts – reading poems and creating our own – one per week
  • Weekly spelling list (repeated until 100% accuracy) – 3 tests per 4-week period (no spelling on week with double cleanings on Monday and Tuesday)
  • Grade 6 Comprehension and Critical Thinking – one per week
  • Creative writing with writing prompts, letter writing, or a book report – 2x a week


Social Studies:


  • Darwin and Evolution for Kids – Read from this book and do the suggested activities
  • Weekly science experiments
  • Monthly visits to Science City with a friend (or two)

All the Rest:

  • Health – What’s Happening to My Body for Girls – one chapter a week with Mama
  • Entrepreneurship – Read one chapter from Kidpreneurs each week and do the quiz.
  • Self-Improvement – Read one chapter from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens each week
  • Music – Harmony Project and practice five mornings a week for 20 minutes a day, add a minute of practice for every time Mama has to remind you to get to/keep practicing!
  • Learn Spanish with Mama by using DuoLingo on her phone 3x week
  • Art – Practice your art regularly. Challenge yourself, enjoy the process and improve with each project!

Powell Gardens – Butterfly Festival 2018

What’s Missing?

I had originally settled on reading Don’t Know Much About Geographybut after paging through it, it just doesn’t fit with her interests and I’ve already got several books/subjects to wade through. So geography is completely missing from the curriculum. She will get a lovely month-long dose of geography and travel during her trip to Europe, so I’m not too worried about it. We will probably go ahead and study the countries that she will be going to and consider that as good enough for now.

Physical education is not listed, but neither is our regular outings with a lovely group of homeschoolers in the Northland that do activities such as ice skating, visiting Powell Gardens, and park days. In other words, she will get plenty of P.E.

Well on Track

By this afternoon we had finished most of the requirements for the week. She will still have her daily cello practice, the timed tests in the basic math skills, and required reading of a chapter a day (she reads a chapter per day from one book, I read to her aloud from a different book).

I am determined to improve her basic math skills so that there is absolutely no hiccups when figuring basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. After three days of timed worksheets (one each of subtraction, multiplication and division), I did an extra step with her.

We counted how many she had answered on each worksheet, divided that number by three (she has three minutes to answer as many questions as possible) and then divided by 60 to learn how many seconds it took her to answer each question. Multiplication was the quickest, then division, followed lastly by subtraction. I’m teaching her some shortcuts that I hope will help her increase her speed. Accuracy doesn’t seem to be a problem, but less than half, sometimes as little as 1/3 of the questions on the worksheet are answered in three minutes. So there is room for improvement.

The next couple of days we can coast quite nicely, now that the bulk of the work is done. She seems to be enjoying (or tolerating) most of it rather well and with a decent attitude.

Hooray for homeschooling!

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - General, Homeschool - Language Arts, Homeschool - Mathematics, Homeschool - Science | Comments Off on The First Week of Sixth Grade

A Foundation of Communication

The first few months after she was placed with us, my foster daughter’s mother had no visitation. That has changed now, and with the very real possibility of her returning to her mother at some point in the near future – we wanted to open the lines of communication.

We adore Little Miss, and we want the best for her. As foster parents, we know that the first priority of foster care is the preparation for reunification if possible. It isn’t a matter of who can provide the better home, it’s a matter of returning a child to their parent(s) IF the issues have been resolved to the court’s satisfaction.

In the case of Little Miss, it looks like the issues will be resolved soon. But having wormed her way into our hearts, we also care about what happens to her after she leaves our home.

“We need to build a foundation – one of trust and compassion,” I told my husband and daughter. “That way, we have done everything that we could to care for her and hopefully convey to her mother that we are not the enemy here.”

If things go downhill, if a job is lost or other issues arise, perhaps the mother will turn to us rather than go it alone. We can’t provide financial help, but we realized we both want to see the best happen for Angie, and we are more than willing to watch her or care for her again if the need arises.

So I asked a friend who also fosters, “Do you think I could write a note to her mom?”

She told me I absolutely could. And frankly, that was all the encouragement I needed. I had Em find me a nice, blank composition book and wrote the following two entries.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018


A friend who is also a foster parent suggested I use a book to update and communicate with you and I thought it was a great idea. I’ll plan on sharing some day-to-day adventures and info, not just so you know of any issues, but also because as a mom, I know how much you miss [Little Miss]. She is a real sweetheart! I hope this keeps us connected better and that will be less unknown. If it were me, I know how much I would want to know.

In a couple of months my daughter is going on a trip with her grandmother for a month. I don’t know what I’m going to do, it will be so hard. In any case, I know it isn’t the same, but I can relate in other ways.

I know you are working hard to get her back, and as I told you when we first met, she is safe, well-loved and cared for, and she is waiting for you. I have faith that, although things move very slowly in courts, that you will be reunified with her soon.

You can ask me questions, let me know anything I need to know in regards to your daughter, and I look forward to us all being in better communication during this difficult time.


And then today I wrote the following entry. She hasn’t read the first one yet, but she will get both of them today.

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

-Daycare, Nature, and Songs-

I wanted to share a little of [Little Miss’s] day-to-day with you.

Monday through Friday she is in a very nice daycare. It is in the same building as where my husband works and they are wonderful with her. She’s playing with other children, they have their own private playground, and they learn different themes each week. Last week’s theme was the ocean.

[Little Miss] has started singing in the car and at the house. It is super-cute. Her favorite song is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

We are building a fence on our property and there is a large yard. She wanders around, digging in the dirt, screaming when she finds a bug, and singing at the top of her lungs.

Recently my 11-year-old was at a Harry Potter summer camp and yesterday she and [Little Miss] were in the yard with sticks yelling different magic words. This must have stuck in her head, because today she found a little wand in the toybox and has been wandering about with it telling everyone “I magic!”

I washed her hair yesterday and picked out the snarls this morning but left it natural so you could work your magic on it. You make it look so good! She is looking forward to your visit today!


I will give the book to the parent aide when she comes to pick her up today…


Posted in Challenges, Foster Parenting | Comments Off on A Foundation of Communication

Why Do You Want to Leave Me?!

There are some movies that just get you right there in the feels. When I need a good “feel good/pick me up from the doldrums” movie, I pull out My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

My husband and I quote from it all the time. Our favorite lines include:

“What you mean, you no eat meat?…S’okay, I fix lamb.”

“Any minute now he’s going to figure out I’m so not worth this.” And then the woman’s brother says, “Yes you are.”

That second one just makes me tear up every time. It’s so beautiful.

The last line that I will often repeat is the title of today’s post. When the daughter (and main character) wants to take some classes at the local community college her dad’s face crumples and he wails, “Why you want to leave me?”

And I’ll admit it, that’s how I feel about Em’s upcoming trip to Europe.

Yeah, you heard right, my little girl (okay, not so little, she will be twelve) is going to Europe with my mom for a month.

Is it possible to die from empty nest syndrome?

They leave on October 10th and you would think it was tomorrow because I’m already in the throes of a panic attack. A thousand what if’s crowd through my brain, and I’m not alone, my hubs admitted to them as well.

It has me spiraling a bit. I’ll admit it. I think about my eldest in times like this. In the year since she distanced herself from us, I see far more clearly than I ever did that this is not a one-off thing, that she has been projecting her own agenda since her late teens and that I truly have been foolish in believing things would improve between us. She has her truths, I have mine, and they simply do not mesh.

It also has me examining my beliefs on family. What does it mean to be family? The images and concepts in my brain do not mesh with reality, and I have struggled for decades to reconcile them.

Our culture doesn’t address alienation very well. It isn’t the accepted story of our lives. We tell our friends, “Just give it time, it will get better, your kid will come around.” When the reality is sometimes it doesn’t. Or even our relationships with our parents. “It’s a blessing what you are doing for your father.” Reality check: I think he’s a real dick.

And after spend the past 19 months examining my relationships, or lack therof, with my parents and my eldest, hard truths have emerged.

Truth #1: That I no longer want a relationship with my eldest. EVER. Knowing she has been spinning lies for over a decade, embellishing upon the embellishments until the truth no longer remains, and using it as a crutch is unacceptable to me. To throw away the deep love that I have had for her, to do her best to discredit it in every word and deed, is hurtful and wrong. I spent months trying to blame others for that turn of events, convinced that a couple who had worked for us and who we had believed were our friends had turned her against us simply for the joy of creating hurt and havoc in their wake. But she is not stupid, she has a mind of her own, and she has been walking down this path far longer than I care to think about.

Truth #2: That I have zero respect for my father, who lives with us. Having taken into consideration his life choices, his complete lack of respect for anyone in his life (especially me and my husband) and his refusal to accept any responsibility for himself – I find that less contact with him is far better for me. He is now attending what is essentially adult daycare for five hours per day, five days per week. And the sigh of relief that escaped me when he left my house this morning was a big one. He lives with us for two reasons: 1) with no assets and little in the way of SSI, he would not find any decent nursing home (and he needs one, believe me), and 2) The state pays me to care for him and that helps move our plans of renovating two houses into rental homes and assuring that our future is not dependent on our children caring for us.

It sounds awful – both of these truths do. It sounds unacceptable in the face of societal expectations. Yet I will stand here and defend my ground because I am living this reality. My eldest has said that “abusers should not have a voice” while tossing out fabrications and distortions of the truth to pander to her readers. It is sickening and it is sad. My dad lies to the doctors and tells them we won’t feed him a diabetic diet when the truth is that he refuses to stick to a diabetic diet and regularly gorges on carbs, causing even more damage to his body.

I remember when my eldest left her husband and moved in to our house in 2015. She was freaking out because she wasn’t making money, had no job, had no prospects and was terrified she was being a financial drain. I told her she was family, that she was a citizen of the household and that we would make it work. Yes, we were struggling, and yes, she did need to do her part, but she needed to be patient with herself. We loved her and wanted her and supported her and she would find her way.

I never dreamed it would turn so hard against me 18 months later. That she would take those beautiful moments and twist them into something else, discount, ignore and lie about our time together, and try to financially hurt us at the same time as I was emotionally reeling as I tried to understand why this was happening.

I stopped reading her rants on May 6th, 2018. Right in time for Mother’s Day and a few days after that my 48th birthday. That final straw, the insanity of actually suggesting I would try and pull some legal hijinks and try and force my way into my future grandchildren’s lives by enacting grandparent’s rights was not only ludicrous but stupid. Not to mention incredibly paranoid. As if I would want to force a child who had been raised to hate me (“Let me tell you story about your evil grandmother”) to come and visit me. Seriously, what the hell? That was when I realized how deluded I had been about the person she was. She had grown up with nothing of me and everything of her dad in her.

I put a block on her site – easily removed – but it reminds me that I have blocked the site and urges me to go find something else to do saying “you have better ways to spend your time.” Although it is a struggle, I have left it in place. I have also blocked her emails and deleted her contact info – it is what she asked for and wanted. She wanted me to leave her alone and by god, that is what I am going to do. The only thing I haven’t honored is her request to “stop talking about [her] on my website.”

My website, my rules. I figure once someone tells you to fuck off, you get the right to make a few decisions on your own.

I have wondered what I would do if I ran into her – out and about. Turning on my heel and going in the opposite direction would be the best option. Who knows, by now she is long gone. Back to the West coast.

What is the point of me saying all this? Why share all of this?

I grew up alone. As in only child, super shy, and truly intimidated by others. They had the life I wanted. They had cousins, brothers, and sisters, loud and noisy houses. They had intact marriages (most of the time), and fun grandparents who fed them tons of sugar and let them run and play and didn’t freak out if they got muddy.

They had these rich lives, with tons of shoulders to cry on, hands to catch them when they fell, and their hours filled with squabbles and adventures.

I dreamed of that life. I fantasized about it. I read the Emily books by L.M. Montgomery and sorrowed for the girl, all alone like me. I decided I would not be that person, I would not live that life. I would have kids, plenty of them, three at least, and my story would be different.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves…

And when menopause struck, I jumped into fostering, hoping for the best, fearful of the worst, with a brave face and even braver words. And I know our first placement, a sweet and fun little girl, will go back to her mother. She will return to a life that is simpler, less rich than ours. She will go back to a life that has uncertainty, poverty, food insecurity and more. But those aren’t good enough reasons for her to stay.

It won’t happen today or tomorrow or next week. It might be months. But it will happen. So we fall in love and we wait for it to break our hearts. And I struggle with answering the big question – is there a point where the heartbreak (from my eldest, from this little one, from the fear of anything happening to my beautiful girl while she is in Europe) becomes too much? That the risk of pain outweighs the possibility of happiness?

That’s what made me cut the ties finally with the eldest. Fully and completely. Because I know that, no matter if that slender hope of reconciliation were to happen, I would never trust it (or her) again. I would be a fool to.

There is so much joy in being around children. Especially when they are your own (or even temporarily your own). And there is so much sadness and heartbreak in losing them.

You don’t get the sad much. I’ll smile and tell you I’m good, I’m fine and everything is all right. But I love my children with such a deep desperation. It brings me to the edge of the abyss at times. And I just needed to share that for once.

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