She Dreams of a Fairy Princess

A new family tradition has been carried on with Little Miss, our foster daughter, this holiday season. For some residents of Kansas City, visiting the Fairy Princess is a tradition that began two generations (or more) ago. 

For the past 80 years, little girls (and boys) can visit the Fairy Princess and tell her what they hope to get for Christmas. They sit in her lap, she has them wave a wand, and they get a small gift.

When Em was four, we took her to see the Fairy Princess at the Kansas City Museum. She sat on the woman’s lap in her pretty red dress and told her what she wanted for Christmas. The Fairy Princess nodded, handed her a wand to wave, and a small chest nearby magically opened.

Em was dazzled. There is a lovely photo of her with the Fairy Princess and I keep it in my office. And this year, my husband turned to me and said, “Hey, are we going to take Little Miss to see the Fairy Princess?”

And I smiled, remembering Em’s face. “Oh yes, let’s do that!”

On a post-Halloween trip to Savers for 75% off of all Halloween costumes, I found some great dress-up clothes for Little Miss, but nothing compared to this beautiful shiny dress…

This little girl has spent most of the last few weekends and weekday evenings running about in this dress. 

Or this one…

And more.

Little Miss loves to play dress up!

As you can see from the photo at the top, we settled on this lovely long-sleeved red dress my friend Victoria gave me. Little Miss loves this dress so much, especially twirling in it!

Little girls dream of being princesses. At some point, it will subside, and she will be on to other interests. But for now, we have one little girl who will always be able to smile at this picture and know that she got to sit with a real fairy princess.


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2018 Semester End and Christmas Break

Semester End and Christmas Break

We never stop homeschooling, not really, but the next two weeks will see a vastly reduced schedule as we relax and enjoy the holidays.

We are a little behind, right at 42% of our total 1,000 of required study and 33% of that in core classes.

Here is the way it works for homeschooling in Missouri:

1,000 hours per year of instruction, with 600 of those hours must be in core studies: reading, language arts, social studies, science, and math.

This is my spreadsheet (although the one I look at is a pinch bigger!).

Each week, Em fills out the weekly study sheet as we go through the different assignments. At the end of the week she hands it into me and I update the Excel spreadsheet with what was studied and assign time estimates to all of them.

For example, practicing her spelling list consists of saying the words out loud and writing them. That and the test takes around 1/2 hour, so I enter it under language arts as .5 hours. Well, I would except that I also add in the reading aloud, independent reading, creative writing, et cetera, which varies from day to day.

And I have my spreadsheet formulas do the rest.

Considering we took a month-long break for Em to go to Europe, it isn’t any great surprise. And it shouldn’t take long to catch up.

In the Spirit of Toothpaste

I love books. As in, I really, REALLY love books.

And of all the things I hope for in raising my kids, it is instilling that love of books in them as well. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my kiddos curled up in a chair or bed with a book in their hands.

It’s like this cosmic thunderbolt that hits at that soft part of my heart and says, “YESSSSSSS!”

My eldest got bit by the reading bug at around age eight. It’s when I saw that look in her eyes, one that said, “Do I have to do xyz? Because really, all I want to do is stay in this amazing world I have dipped my toes in. Can I stay here? In Narnia? Forever?”

Em took a little longer. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure her out. She is a puzzle box I am determined to find the key to.

Em at the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

Em loves for me to read to her. LOVES it. Right now we are reading The One and Only Ivan, which is heartbreaking, yet beautiful, and at times funny. She is enjoying it, but a book she absolutely loved was The Toothpaste Millionaire, which we just finished.

Who knew that a fictional story of an African American boy in the 70s inventing a basic version of toothpaste that turns the entire toothpaste industry on its ear would be so appealing to her. But it was.

She was so sad when it ended. I’ve ordered Danny Dollar Millionaire, which may or may not be as appealing. I’ve also ordered the Tuttle Twins, the first book in the series, on the advice of another homeschool mom. Who knows, perhaps they will capture her interest as much as The Toothpaste Millionaire has done.

Meanwhile, though, it inspired us to try our hand at making our own toothpaste. Em wanted to try vanilla toothpaste, I wanted peppermint toothpaste. We used the following recipe:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 Tbsp baking soda
  • Vanilla extract (or spearmint) to taste
  • 2 Tbsp stevia or xylitol (we used a combination)

Em wasn’t happy with her toothpaste, not at all. She said the baking soda made it taste too salty.

Years ago, when I would visit my maternal grandmother over the summer, I would inevitably forget to pack toothpaste. My grandmother, Mum, had been in dentures since her 30s and was a frugal soul. She provided me with a box of baking soda to use when brushing my teeth.

Go on, try it, it tastes about as awful as might imagine it would. In any case, I sort of got used to it, enough so that I could manage to use what we have made, at least for the foreseeable future.

So it looks like I have a lot of toothpaste to go through. I combined it into one jar. I’m pretty sure it will last me around two years!


Super Milk and Benefiber

Little Miss had her three year checkup a week ago and I was dismayed to find out she has only gained two pounds eight ounces since coming to stay with us in April.

She is so small for her age that she is 4th percentile in height and 1/10 of the 1st percentile in weight. Way small. I thought Em was little (she’s 12 and just now in size ten clothes, at least 4-6 inches shorter than all of her friends), but Little Miss just blows her petite little self right out of the water.

I had slacked off on the pushing foods routine – frankly, it got stressful for all involved. We kept urging her to eat, insisting she eat plenty of proteins, and not leave the table until her plate was nearly clear. In return, she at slower and slower and slower. We will put her in her seat first and set a plate down in front of her. My dad will be next, then the rest of make it to the table.

Little Miss is still eating after every one of us has finished, left the table, and even washed the dishes!

“She is considered moderately malnourished,” the doc told me, “We really need to get her weight up.”

She suggested we NOT give her Pediasure since it is full of sugar, the high-fructose corn syrup variety. I agreed, that would be an awful way to teach her to eat more! So instead, she suggested we give Little Miss super milk – full fat milk mixed with a splash of cream. We already only stock whole milk and also cream, so this worked out perfectly.

Each morning she gets a cup full of super-milk before she goes off to daycare. Sometimes she even gets a spoon or two of peanut butter. The problem, though, is now she is constipated thanks to all of the extra milk. So now we have to give her a small amount of benefiber, balancing keeping her regular with not giving her too much fiber and her losing/not gaining weight again.

Poor kiddo – all we want is for her to be healthy!

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One Last Push Before Christmas Break

As 2018 winds down and Christmas break approaches, I find that we are in a good space with homeschooling, Emily and I. She gets stressed still, mainly over math, but it is improving.

This morning there were tears. When I asked her why she was so upset she said, “I feel DUMB when I’m doing math, and I don’t like that feeling.”

Boy, can I relate to that! Memories of struggling over multiplication, division, fractions and more still come to the surface as we delve into 6th grade math. It has helped me realize that, thanks to my own pain points in math, I am the perfect teacher for her to have. I may not know the terminology at times, I may wave my arms in the air like I did today and tell her, “When multiplying 3-4 digit numbers you add another zero with each line. I don’t know WHY, I just know that you do.”

I’m not an expert at it, but like my husband’s struggles with reading at an early age made him the perfect teacher for Emily when she was struggling to read, so do my struggles with math.

Now, as the money manager of the house, I’m determined to not only get those basics down pat, but to give her the tools I was never given, NOW, so that she doesn’t have to struggle to learn them later.

How to create and maintain a budget. How to understand an amortization table (which horrified her by the way when I explained how a majority of the interest is charged in the first few years of the home loan) and the basic costs of running a household and living without debt is done.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to me that she learn. These lessons I wasn’t even finished learning while I raised my eldest child, I know them now and I am determined to pass them on.

Each day we review math basics. Just a simple three minute timed test in which she answers as many questions as she can in addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Perfectionist that she is, it is a rare day when I catch her making a single mistake. This is a good thing, because it means that all she needs to work on is improving her time and efficiency, the accuracy is already there!

Three days per week she works on Logic and Word Problems and once per week she completes a full page of Pre-Algebra.

“I still hate math,” she tells me, and I smile and nod. I felt the same way for a very, VERY long time. Now I enjoy the numbers, even if my math skills haven’t gone much past the basic equations side of things. I’ll never be a great mathematician, but I do enjoy seeing those numbers grow, especially when I am adding up our savings!

Math As a Life Skill

As we reviewed our household budget today I pointed to different parts of it, “See here, this is our clothing budget for the year.”

Em leaned in, “Wow, $1200? That’s a lot!”

“Well, that’s for all of us, you, me, Daddy, Little Miss and Gramps. Let’s see how we did for the year.”

I switched over to my report in Quicken. “Looks like we came in $300 higher than I expected. So I’ll adjust the budget accordingly so going forward we have enough.” I changed the number on the spreadsheet to $1,500.

I turned back to her, “One year I had estimated we would spend $3,000 on car repairs and it came in at $4,600. That’s $1,600 of OUCH we were not prepared for. And that is what a budget does, it protects you from the ouches. If you can cushion for them, like I do by using the bank account that has the Non-Monthly Expenses in it, then the financial road in front of you is much smoother.”

Or as I later explained, “Shit happens. And it is a lot less painful if you have some money in a slush fund to handle it.”

We are reading:

This is a great book which I highly recommend to everyone, not just kids!

Last week, we had a bit of a kerfluffle as she pushed again for a cell phone, something she has zero need for. We have a house phone, and otherwise she is always with me or my husband. When she is sixteen she will need one. Until then? Nope.

This week, however, was vindication of sorts. As we moved through the budget she pointed to the entry for cell phones, “Wait, is that how much you pay for your and Daddy’s cell phones?!”

The amount was $106.00. “Yep, Daddy’s is fifty-something a month and mine is forty-something. At some point, we will get on the same plan and hopefully reduce our costs, but right now that $106 is for just two phones.”

“No wonder you said ‘no’!” She said staring at the amount, “That’s really expensive!” And what she said next made me smile, “Okay, so when I turn sixteen I’m going to really need a job to pay for all of this stuff!”

Money don’t grow on trees
We got bills to pay, we got mouths to feed
There ain’t nothing in this world for free

And with that, I’m off to listen to Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”

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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!


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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.

Posted in Homeschool - General, Homeschool - Mathematics | Comments Off on Three Day Homeschool, Sly James and the Zoo

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.

Posted in Money/Frugality/Cost-Cutting, Tips & Tricks, Unschooling | Comments Off on The Story Behind the Numbers