Monday, July 21, 2014

Woof Woof

No, we haven't taken the plunge yet (still working on Geoff)...we are not dog owners.

But on Friday, on route home from a friends' house, I spotted a small dog wandering down a busy road and, even as my heart sank just a little because I knew our afternoon's trajectory was about to change, I pulled over to the side of the road.  Just as I was doing so, Seth saw the little guy and immediately became teary and insisted that we stop to help the dog (a boy after my own heart, without a doubt!).

I instructed the kids to stay in the car and I grabbed a handful of kid snacks that I had in the car.  And off I went.  The dog clearly hadn't been away from his home for too long because he was still a little full of his own adventure; he wasn't too keen on being caught!  In the meantime, Seth was (literally) hanging out the car window, alternating between sobs and pleas to get him, and cheering me on and clapping.  Thankfully I was able to accommodate:  After less than two blocks of tracking the dog, I noticed that he was listening to the sound of my voice and he stopped briefly to pick up one of the little food bits I'd thrown at him; then, when he stopped to do his business on the grass, he let me grab his collar.


I've rescued many a dog in my adult lifetime - it has seemed, from time to time, that stray dogs seek me out, knowing that I'll do my best to help.  It's just something I do.

In fact, the night before this most recent dog rescue, I was out for dinner with one of my oldest friends, and we were talking about this tendency of mine to pick up strays.  She's been with me on at least two occasions when I've picked up a lost dog and has earned the right to roll her eyes at me on the topic.  :)

The most memorable experience we shared on the rescue front happened over a decade ago, on an occasion when my rescue attempt failed.  My friend was visiting me in Vancouver and we decided to spend a few days on Vancouver Island, in the Long Beach area (side note: Eucluelet, which book-ends one end of Long Beach is pretty much my favourite spot in the world).  So we took a ferry over to Nanaimo and then drove that oh-so-beautiful highway cross island, on a narrow and wind-y highway that cuts through mountains and borders the prettiest lakes on the continent.  Mmm...I'm longing to be there just thinking about it.

But I digress...

Coming around a corner on that bendy highway, we spotted a German-shepherd-like dog wandering down the narrow shoulder of the highway and knew immediately that something was amiss.  I slowed the car and I remember to this moment the sound of my friend's groan; she knew, she just knew, knowing me as she does, that that dog was going to delay our min-vacation.

And it did.  By at least an hour (possibly more??).  I tried, oh how I tried to get that dog into our vehicle.  But nothing - not bribery, not softly-spoken words, not commands - nothing ultimately worked, and it remains one of the few times that I've been forced to give up on a dog rescue.  Sometimes you have to move on.


But it was a different story on Friday afternoon.  As I walked back towards the van carrying that little white dog, I was Seth's super hero and it was a good feeling...worth the effort of the next twenty-four hours before the dog's family was found.

I'll probably never change.  Given Seth's reaction to this rescue, I'm not sure I'd ever want to change.  Sure it was inconvenient.  Sure it wasn't precisely fun to wipe leftover poop from a canine butt.  But to see the boys that night sleeping on the floor as close as possible to the dog, to see their joy as they discovered that the dog knew how to play fetch, to listen to their peals of laughter as the dog did some cute thing or another, and to feel on my shoulder the devastation of their loving tears after we delivered the dog home the following afternoon...well, those things made a bit of inconvenience all worthwhile.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Making a Movie (Apple Camp)

Several weeks back, I received an email from our local Apple computer store advertising a 3-morning (90 minutes/morning), movie-making workshop for kids ages 9-12...free of charge!  Movie-making is something that Matthew had been expressing an interest in learning how to do and so I signed the two of us up for this week (a parent was required to accompany him).   Lizzie is in basketball camp this week, so I arranged with my parents and two good friends to take Seth for these three mornings, and everyone has been happy with the arrangements!

On Wednesday, the first morning of the movie-making camp, Matthew learned to make a storyboard to reflect the different scenes he wanted to show in his 1-2 minute movie.  He also learned how to use Garage Band on an ipad, and ended up creating and mixing his own music on Garage Band to reflect the different scenes of his plot.  

Wednesday evening, after his first morning at Apple Camp, Matthew had to shoot his movie (based on the storyboard he'd completed), and he decided to use a Stop Motion app that I'd downloaded onto my iphone to shoot his movie.  He didn't have a lot of time that evening to shoot his movie, but he gave it a good try!

Yesterday morning was the second morning of Apple camp.  Matthew learned how to merge his movie with his music on iMovie, how to edit the music a little better to fit with the various scenes, how to add a few sound effects, and how to download it all onto a USB. 

This morning, though it hasn't happened quite yet, is the day they present all of the kids' finished movies...and I'm not sure what else.

I was pretty impressed with Apple Camp.  Although the first morning was a little rushed and could have benefitted from an additional half hour to work on storyboards and music creation, it was otherwise pretty terrific.  There were a dozen kids there, working with four instructors, and I thought the instructors were pretty terrific at teaching rather than simply doing stuff for the kids.  For a kid like Matthew, who has had very, very little experience on computers to date, the instructors were perfect at teaching him how to drag things here and there, and how to do some things that I found somewhat challenging to do (but which Matthew picked up pretty fast!).  Even though the workshop cost me nothing, they provided the kids with a great t-shirt, a nice set of headphones and a USB bracelet with a copy of the final movie on it...and I think the memories of the Camp were worth quite a lot.

Matthew wasn't really all that happy with the final result of the movie, to be honest, but he didn't really care a whole lot about what others thought of it, and he had the perspective that this was a learning experience for him and that he'd use his new skills to do better the next time.  Already yesterday evening he was asking to use my iphone with the stop animation app to start on another movie.

I personally thought his movie was a great first effort and a terrific learning experience; I have no doubt that he'll be doing this more at home and trying new and creative ways of improving upon his first attempt.

Matthew's movie (based loosely on a 900-word short story that he and his cousin wrote a couple of weeks ago, called The Great Pound Escape) is called Lost and Found.  It's about a dog family (two parent dogs and their two puppies).  The movie begins with the birth of the puppies (cue happy music); then shows a pound keeper (played by Seth) taking the puppies away and putting them into the jail/pound (sad music), where they're very sad; it then proceeds to a scene where the puppies escape from the pound and enjoy a few little adventures in the great outdoors (cheerful music); and ends with the puppies being reconciled to their parents (accompanied by some barking sound effects).

Here it is, for the first time:  Lost and Found.  Directed, edited, and produced by Matthew, starring Seth, Finn (mother dog), Oreo (father dog), and Puff and Ruff (the puppies).


video

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lizzie, Basketball, and Match-Making

I've been so proud of Lizzie this week.  She's growing up, my little Bean.  Not quite seven years old, but showing some awesome, early signs of blossoming.

Back in February, when it was time to sign the kids up for their annual week of basketball day camp, the boys said that they didn't want to go this year, but Lizzie was resolute about needing to attend.  I wondered privately about whether or not she'd actually attend on her own, without her brothers leading the way, but I signed her up anyway.

Then, just last week I received an email from Athletes in Action (the wonderful group that runs the camp) offering to change the camp from a half-day camp to a full day camp, at no additional charge to us (they were trying to accommodate parents who needed a full day of camp activities for their children).  I asked Lizzie if she wanted to go for a half day or for a full day and she clapped her hands and yelled that she wanted to go for a full day!

Well, she's doing it.  Despite my private wonderings, she's doing it.  Today will be day 4 of her camp.

On Monday morning, as I was prepping her lunch and snacks with her (side point: I virtually never have to send lunches and snacks out with my kids, b/c we h/school...how do all of you mothers accomplish this every. single. day.  I hate it!!), Lizzie said that she was "so excited"...and then in the next breath she said that she was "so scared" to go on her own.

I was privately pumped to hear her express both sides so clearly, because that's a classic sign that she's beginning to develop mixed feelings - when she can recognize two different (often competing) feelings at the same time.  Five months ago, when I signed her up, she would not have been able to recognize that she would have fear as well as excitement...she was just excited all the way. But this week she could recognize both feelings and they were both strong within her.  She was very conflicted.

I dealt with it the way I've dealt with mixed feelings in my other kids; I tried to hold her in her mix for as long as possible, to cultivate her brain's ability to simultaneously handle two different feelings.

"Wow, Lizzie, those are big feelings to have," I offered.  "On the one hand you feel so excited to go and have some fun learning basketball; and on the other hand it's really scary to go on your own."

Lizzie: "Yeah!  I'm excited and scared!"

Ruth:  "Wow, you must be growing up to handle both of those big feelings at the same time.  To be excited and to be scared at the same exact time is pretty big.  Tell me first about the excited part."

She went on to tell me that she was hoping her "awesome" coaches from last year were there; she was hoping to learn some more about basketball; and she was really looking forward to being able to take her pretty pink lunch bag and to eating the snacks and lunch I would pack into it!  We had a good laugh about her love of her mostly-unused lunch bag!

Then I asked her about the scary part of going.  "So on the one hand you're so excited, Lizzie.  You're so excited about.....  And on the other hand you're scared, too.  Tell me about what's making you feel scared?"

She was worried about going in without her brothers; she was worried that the coaches wouldn't think she was good; she was scared that she might get hurt and I wouldn't be there; she was worried that she'd miss me; she was anxious about being too little, still, to be able to get the basketball as high as the hoop; and she was scared she wouldn't be able to open all of her little snack/lunch containers.

Rather than immediately solving her problems for/with her, I simply acknowledged each thing that she brought up.

"That really must worry you to walk into camp without your brothers, Lizzie; they were there with you last year, when you didn't know anyone, and they helped you to feel safe."

Each time I heard her fears, she echoed them back and said that yes, this was exactly right and sometimes added to the fear I'd restated.

Finally, I summarized everything again, still trying to hold her in that mix. "Wow, what huge feelings you have, Lizzie.  I can tell that your brain is becoming a big girl brain because it can hold all of those mixed up feelings inside.  On the one hand...and on the other hand...."

When she finally felt replete of the need to talk about all of her mix (and Lizzie's very verbal and I was trying to hold her in her mixed feelings for as long as possible, so this process took a while), it was Lizzie who ultimately sighed and then made a few suggestions to help with the anxiety.

"Mommy, maybe my brothers could walk in with you and me when I first go into the gym...could you make sure that I meet my coaches because I might not know them...maybe one of my coaches could help me with my lunch box containers if I need help." etc etc etc

Before we left the house, I again acknowledged her mix and then asked if she felt big enough that day to put on her badge of bravery.  She said that she thought she was ready and that, even though she was still scared, she was going to try it.  I took an imaginary badge of bravery out of my pocket and gently slapped it onto her chest.  She looked down and said "good" and we went out to the car.

When we got there, the boys and I took her in together (and I'd coached the boys beforehand that I wanted them to give her a hug and wish her a good day...something that would not happen naturally!).  Lizzie immediately recognized two of the coaches, which was awesome, and was thrilled to see that one particular coach was back - she is a young, black woman who was very kind to Lizzie last year and Lizzie really took to her and loved that both of them have hair that is ultra curly!

Even though Lizzie recognized two of them, I still did my usual match-making thing between Lizzie and each of her  coaches and I could see that Lizzie was more comfortable afterwards and knew, too, that the coaches had each made a personal connection with her.

The boys and I hung around for a few minutes, watching Lizzie run around the gym, and then I called her over.

"Lizzie, I'm thinking that the boys and I are going to head out now.  Is there anything I can do to help you feel more comfortable before I leave?"

She ran at me, gave me a quick hug and and an "I love you," and then started running away, yelling over her shoulder, "Bye Mom, bye Matthew, bye Seth.  Have a good day."  She never looked back.

It's been a great first few days for her and I'm thrilled.  Thrilled to see the beginnings of mixed feelings in my girl; thrilled to see her excitement over a week at camp; thrilled to see that she's such an active, delighted child; thrilled that she's a kid who can put on a badge of bravery and attempt new things without feeling pressured to do them; thrilled (in a sad sort of way) that my baby is growing up just a little.  I totally believe that holding her close, enabling her to be dependent for as long as she needs (rather than following society's pattern of pushing children into independence faaaaar too early, IMO) is a factor in her wanting to spread her wings just a little.  I'm loving the process of helping her want to learn to fly!


P.S. In case you haven't read my earlier posts about match-making, this is what I do whenever my kids encounter new situations (doctor, dentist, summer camp, soccer, swimming lessons, etc etc).

Here's how it works.

First, I try, whenever possible, to find something out beforehand about the person my kids are going to meet (in this case I called the Athletes in Action camp the week before to ask the names of the camp coaches and to find out something about each).

When we arrived at camp on the first morning, I deliberately took Lizzie by the hand and went to each of the coaches in turn and our conversation went something like this with each of the coaches.

Ruth: "Hi there.  My name's Ruth."  (the coach introduced him/herself...handshake...eye contact...smile...Lizzie is watching a connection start between her mother and the stranger who will be looking after her in my absence)

Ruth: "Oh Bob...yes, how nice to meet you.  I understand that you are attending the University of ____ this year and are studying _____.  (I then note something interesting about his course of studies and he smiles, feeling flattered that I know about him.)  How great that you've taken the summer to come back and help run the basketball camp this summer for the kids.  Thank you so much for doing that."  (so far it's me who's connected personally to the stranger my kid sees me talking with in a friendly manner, and the coach has made a connection to me and he's going to remember me because I knew something about him and he's been touched personally)

Ruth: "Bob, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Lizzie." (look down at Lizzie, who's been listening and seeing the adults smiling at each other and nodding at each other - the beginnings of her being able to rely on the new person)  "Lizzie, do you remember Bob from last year 'cause he's back and he's been waiting for this camp and for the chance to see you again. (Look up at Bob)  Right, Bob?"

Of course he nods and smiles and says an enthusiastic "yes," which is the beginning of the connection between the two of them.  He crouches down a little and looks Lizzie in the eye and says that it's nice to see her again and she smiles back at him and says hi.

I go on to look between Bob and Lizzie and tell Lizzie that Bob is going to look after her while I'm not there, and that if she needs something (water break, bathroom break, to open lunch containers, to ask to call me if she needs me, etc) she can ask him.  After each point, I look to Bob and say, with a smile, "right, Bob?" and of course he smiles and nods and says that he'll help her.  Lizzie gets to see him smile and nod and hears his friendly words and offers of help and, a mere minute after we first walked up to him, there's the beginning of an attachment happening that I've orchestrated.

And not only does Lizzie feel more secure after that process, but whichever person I'm matchmaking her to also has a much better memory of Lizzie than they do of of other kids walking through the door.  So guess which kid they're going to remember by name the earliest/easiest...the kid they've been match-made to...which is all the better for my Lizzie.  It happens every time.

This is match-making and it's been such a helpful thing to do. I've become quite good at it!  I used to feel rather awkward about doing this (and I'm still a little self conscious), when I started about 18 months ago, because I must seem like a bit of a weird mama at first for doing this.  But it's had such a massive impact on my kids that now I just do it.  OtIt doesn't guarantee that Lizzie is going to have a great day at basketball camp, but the odds of that are radically improved if she and her coaches are connected at a personal level than if I simply leave her in a gym with a bunch of adults she doesn't know.  Also, if Lizzie is connected to the adults in the room before she's connected to the kids, the odds are far better that she'll listen to the instructions of those coaches before being drawn in to potential mis-behaviour with the other kids.  And when I walk into the gym every morning to drop Lizzie off, guess which mom the coaches are going to be sure to acknowledge - right, the one that acknowledged them and took the time to get to know them a wee bit and who greets them by name every morning and asks how they're doing, etc etc...and surely that is only good news, too, for how my daughter will be treated at camp!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

School Starting Age

Another article on the same day - sorry if it's too much!

But...

...Yes!  This makes so much sense to me...that children begin school later.  Increasingly there is evidence suggesting that children begin their formal education no sooner than age 7 or 8...prior to this should be entirely play-based (not play-with-a-focus-on-academics).  Europe seems to be ahead of the game in this regard.

Here's the link:  School Starting Age

And here's the article:

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School starting age: the evidence




Earlier this month the "Too Much, Too Soon" campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.

In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously
David Whitebread
In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four.  A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).
This is a brief review of the relevant research evidence which overwhelmingly supports a later start to formal education. This evidence relates to the contribution of playful experiences to children’s development as learners, and the consequences of starting formal learning at the age of four to five years of age
There are several strands of evidence which all point towards the importance of play in young children’s development, and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling. These arise from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies.  Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups. It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions.
In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development. Perhaps most worrying, a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems.
Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated superior academic, motivational and well-being outcomes for children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes. One particular study of 3,000 children across England, funded by the Department for Education themselves, showed that an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households.
Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. In a separate study of reading achievement in 15 year olds across 55 countries, researchers showed that there was no significant association between reading achievement and school entry age.
This body of evidence raises important and serious questions concerning the direction of travel of early childhood education policy currently in England. In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously.
- See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.jFapldEK.dpuf


Unstructured Play

I just came across this recent article, which I found interesting...and not at all surprising.  I believe, based on the evidence in my own home, that unstructured play-for-the-sake-of-play (and not for the purpose of competition) is one of the ways my kids develop creativity and learn to organize their own thoughts/plans/goals.  I'm often amazed by how their freedom (sometimes to the point of boredom) results in activities far more creative and brilliant than anything I could have laid out for them.


Here's the link to the article:   Too Many Structured Activities

And here's the article content (sorry for the whacky fonts):

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Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children's Executive Functioning

Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they're going to do with their time. Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver studied the schedules of 70 six-year olds, and they found that the kids who spent more time in less-structured activities had more highly-developed self-directed executive function. 

unstructured-play.jpg
Self-directed executive function develops mostly during childhood, the researchers write, and it includes any mental processes that help us work toward achieving goals—like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between tasks, and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and feelings. It is an early indicator of school readiness and academic performance, according to previous research cited in the study, and it even predicts success into adulthood. Children with higher executive function will be healthier, wealthier, and more socially stable throughout their lives. 

The researchers asked parents to record the activities of their six-year-olds for a week, and then they measured how much time each child spent in structured and less-structured activities. The researchers define structured activities as anything organized and supervised by adults—like music lessons or community service. For an activity to be less-structured, the child must be in charge of deciding what to do and figuring out how to do it. All forms of free play counted as less-structured activities. 

The researchers conjecture that when children are in control of how they spend their time, they are able to get more practice working toward goals and figuring out what to do next. For instance, the researchers write, a child with a free afternoon ahead of her might decide to read a book. Once she's finished, she might decide to draw a picture about the book, and then she'll decide to show the drawing to her family. This child will learn more than another child who completes the same activities, but is given explicit instructions throughout the process. 

At the end of the week, the researchers tested the children on skills like vocabulary and verbal fluency to measure their executive function. The more time the children spent in less-structured activities, the higher they scored. 

"Structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when," the researchers write in the study. 

The study is the first of its kind, and the researchers believe it's relevant to debates parents are already having on blogs and at soccer games—but it's also resonating with educators advocating the importance of free play in classrooms. 

"The ability to self-direct can spell the difference between an independent student, who can be relied upon to get her work done while chaos reigns around her, and a dependent, aimless student," former teacher Jessica Lahey writes in The Atlantic. "When we reduce the amount of free playtime in American preschools and kindergartens, our children stand to lose more than an opportunity to play house and cops and robbers." 

The researchers acknowledge that their study only proves correlation, but not causation. That is, it's possible that children with better executive functioning may prefer to participate in less-structured activities more often, they write, while children with worse executive functioning may be more likely to seek out activities already structured for them. 

"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," psychology and neuroscience professor Yuko Munakata, senior author of the study, said in a press release. "Our results are really suggestive and intriguing. Now we'll see if it holds up as we push forward and try to get more information." 

Image:Jeff Rhines/Flickr. Creative Commons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You Know Your Kids' Lives are a Little Too Easy When...

...one's middle child begins to cry and complain because the delicious, homemade, chunky, chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies that his mother took out of the freezer this morning were still "a little too cold" when mid afternoon snack was served.

Yikes.

The Frustrating Life of Being a Home Owner

In the past 4.5 weeks, we have had three (three!) house-damaging water incidents in our home...and I have to say that I'm rather tired of it, and tired, too, of shelling out all of the money that's been flying out the door in order to take care of the issues.

First we had the toilet flooding issue (see this post) that still has us down one bathroom and minus drywall in part of the kitchen where the dirty water spewed forth through light fixtures below the bathroom.

Second, two weekends ago, while we were at my folks' cottage for the weekend during a horrible rainstorm, we got a call from our alarm company saying they'd received a moisture alarm in our home.  So Geoff drove back the 90 minutes from the cottage and found water coming into our basement, down from the window wells and behind the walls onto our basement floors.  He spent the next day ripping out baseboards and pulling back carpeting in the affected areas, renting (for several hundred dollars) industrial-strength fans and dehumidifiers, and figuring out what to do with the window wells and eaves troughs to prevent this from happening again.

Then, just yesterday morning, Geoff went down into the basement and stepped onto soggy carpet.  Apparently the valve on our city-operated water system is broken and was leaking; it flooded the floor in two different rooms.  So more baseboards came out, more carpeting got pulled back, more fans and dehumidifiers got rented, and we're still waiting for the city water people (who have kindly explained that, even though it's their valve and they are responsible for providing us with water and turning it on/off as necessary, this is not their responsibility and therefore will not be assisting us in the restoration and repair work) to come out and turn off the water so that the plumber can come and fix the issue, after which the water people will come back (apparently on the same day) to turn our water back on.

So now all three floors of our house are affected and awaiting repair.  Toilets, bathroom flooring, drywalled areas, carpeting, baseboards, etc.  We have already spent close to $2,000 just in insurance deductible (only for the toilet issue) and renting equipment repeatedly to dry our place out.  And that doesn't even cover the cost of any of the actual repair work that will need to happen.

And now we're thinking that we're going to need to invest in a $1,000 sump pump back-up system.  We have a perfectly operational sump pump; but we've had a lot of water/rain this spring and accompanying power outages and if a power outage stops our sump pump from operating for more than a short while, our whole basement is at risk.  Great.  Just what I wanted to spend money on...rather than on the other things that so badly need doing.

It's very frustrating, very costly, and very time consuming in all of the details.  And I'm annoyed because I haven't been able to leave the house since yesterday morning because I'm waiting for the darn water guy to come.

So I'm grumpy.  Wising for just a moment that we lived in a condo and paid a maintenance fee that would have someone else taking care of all of these problems.


P.S.  The better part of me wants to add that, despite all of the above, we're very thankful that no one's been hurt by any of these three annoying house situations...everyone's ok and we're all fine!  My beefs are only about the costliness of these kinds of things and about the amount of time that is consumed in trying to restore and repair things when life is already busy enough.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Working Together

It doesn't happen often, but when we all work together in harmony, it's a wonderful thing.

My kids are usually really good helpers around the house when asked to complete some chore or another, but all too often this happens in the midst of their bickering amongst themselves as to who's doing more work than another.  Often, in order to minimize the comparisons, I end up having to divide chores so that they are working on different tasks.

It's been a little different over the past week, though, in a really lovely way.  The kids and I have been working on various tasks together and it's been done in harmony and with, frankly, great attitudes.  One day we went through the family room and sun room together at a more in depth level than usual:  Cleaning out the craft drawers; getting into the corners; going through some games and dvds that we may not want any more; vacuuming; dusting; removing bits of tape residue that have become stuck in places it doesn't belong; etc.  Another day we did the same to the library and dining room.  This morning we tackled the six laundry baskets of clothing and bedding that have been waiting patiently for attention.

And yesterday, we had a lovely time prepping breakfast together and various little jobs got done voluntarily...I didn't even have to ask!  Matthew and Seth peeled and juiced oranges for a special breakfast juice treat, and made scrambled eggs; Lizzie emptied the dishwasher by herself (with just a little help from mama) and set the table; and the kids together washed the eight parts of the juicer that need cleaning out after every juicing.  After breakfast, Matthew even cleared the table and started loading the dishes into the dishwasher without me saying a word!

There's little so satisfying as hearing your child say "Mommy, I want to empty the dishwasher, ok?" or "Mom, why don't Seth and I peel some oranges and make some fresh juice together, and I'll find the right knife for him to use and I'll teach him how to put the juicer together, ok?" or "Mom, can I crack the eggs into the pan and make the scrambled eggs?"

I have often wanted, over the past week, to pour praise onto them for such lovely (and peaceful!) contributions to our household - I've been so thankful for (and even moved by) their harmonious contributions that I've wanted to shower them with praise and, in a sense, reward them with exuberant thanks.  But I've stopped myself every time.  I've held back because, really, what I'm seeing is merely the fruit of what I've been trying to teach them - that we each contribute (ideally cheerfully, but this isn't the expectation) to the things that need doing in our home because we're all part of the same family and all living in the same household.  I don't want them to work for external validation - in my experience, there's little that kills a child's enthusiasm for something like an abundance of praise (or other reward).  So instead, I've quietly thanked them and expressed how much I enjoy working together with them.  And when we've finished one of the larger jobs, it's been me who has suggested that we take a break or stop altogether and go do something fun.

We never pay for household chores, either big ones or small/regular ones.  We see work as being part of a family and, as homeschoolers, work and chores form a regular part of our days and weeks...it's part of their education, since we define education in part as helping our children learn how they will survive and thrive in the world as adults.

But just because it's an expectation doesn't mean that it's always easily accomplished...and that fact means that weeks like this one are all the sweeter and to be quietly savoured.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creepy Crawlies

I don't like bugs.  I particularly don't like killing bugs that we might come across in the house.  Thus, for the past almost-two years, I've had an arrangement with my boys (who have no idea that I hate killing bugs and who believe that the deal is exclusively for their benefit) that if they deal with a bug that I/they find inside the house (either by killing or releasing it), I will record a tally mark for each bug killed.  Each tally mark represents $0.10; thus, after disposing with 50 bugs from inside the house they would earn $5.00.  Matthew just earned $5.00; Seth also did, just recently.

(Note: Lizzie is excluded from this arrangement simply because she doesn't care.  She actually has two tally marks from the past almost-two years, but she cares not a whit about the possible money.  If she spies a bug inside the house, she merely calls one of the boys over!)

We really don't have a lot of bugs in the house, but you know how it is...a lady bug here, a small spider there, a number of silver fish in fall when things are cooling off outside, lots of spring mosquitos allowed by open doors to fly inside.

The boys feel as if they've accomplished something and the plan has worked like a charm.  The kids are always excited about adding a tally mark to their total, and I never have to worry about disposing of a bug!  It's great.

But a couple of weeks ago I was confronted with a scenario that I'd been dreading for years.  YEARS.  I've actually had nightmares about it, as silly as it seems.

I'd taken the kids for a nature walk in the morning and, shortly before dinner, I heard shrieks as Matthew came running downstairs in his underwear, gesturing towards his arm.

There was a wood tick stuck on his upper right arm, already growing fat with my boy's blood.  A wood tick.

Though Matthew had no idea, I almost threw up at the knowledge that it was me who was going to have to deal with this situation.  I was going to have to look at those squirming little legs, that blood-bulging body, and somehow remove it from my son's arm....all without letting him know that I was far more panicky about the situation than he was.

I used the back of a spoon to scrape some old vaseline onto the thing, having remembered from somewhere that woodticks breathe out of their back ends and that vaseline makes them unable to breathe; thus, they are forced to withdraw their head from the person's skin/vein.  While I was waiting for the vaseline to do its magic, however, I looked up woodtick removal online...and found out that vaseline doesn't actually work.  Neither, apparently, I read, does the application of heat...this was to be my next attempt...in fact, to Matthew's dismay, I'd already pulled out the butane bbq lighter, even not having a clue how to actually apply heat without damaging Matthew's skin.

I read online that sometimes soaking a cottonball in dish washing liquid and holding it over the tick might result in the tick sticking to the cottonball once removed.  But wouldn't you know it I was out of cottonballs.  So I phoned Geoff and asked him to pick up cottonballs on route home from work; but he wouldn't be home for an hour yet.  And Matthew wanted the thing out of him.  NOW.

So I continued to read.  And darn it, I concluded that I was simply going to have to pull it out myself.  I gagged...physically gagged, despite all outward appearances of calm and words of reassurance.

I got out a tweezer and sat Matthew down at the table so that I could read how to do this while actually doing it.  I shuddered, applied the tweezer as close to the head of the tick as possible, and squeezed gently.  The legs twitched and began to scramble, trying to get the head in deeper.  Following instructions, I pulled up just slightly on the tweezer, so that Matthew's skin peaked to a point and stayed like that while the tick hung on.  I read that you don't want to twist the thing out, or to pull hard on it; rather, it was better to hang on and pull just a little on it gently, so that hopefully it would give up its grip and pull itself out - the article I was reading said that this was the only way to ensure that the thing came all the way out.  So that's what I did.

For a good 20-30 seconds, I hung onto that squirming little thing an inch or so above Matthew's skin while he freaked out that his skin was being pulled on.  It didn't appear to actually hurt - but he could feel it and he certainly didn't like the look of his skin being gripped by the tick.

And then, finally, it happened.  It just popped out and it was suddenly intact in my tweezers.  I dropped it, wriggling, onto the counter, and told Matthew to flush it.

His first response?

"Mom, I think I should get two tally marks on my chart, because not only am I getting rid of the tick, but it was in me."

I agreed.  Readily.  Two tally marks.  I wrote 'em down.

And as for me?  Well, I quietly gave myself a badge of bravery for confronting and conquering a fear.  Not a big deal for most people, I realize, but for me...well, let's just say that I feel as if I earned a few tally marks myself on that one.

The good news is that I'm ready now.  Ready for those wood-dense forest walks.  Armed with my tweezers; ready, willing and, finally, able!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seth's Love of Chocolate

So, Matthew was just now in the process of pouring brownie batter into his pan when Seth happened to walk by.  He groaned when he saw the batter being poured in and, in awe and with feeling, said "Oh Mom, that is a volcano of chocolate goodness."

I love it when my language-challenged boy comes up with lovely little expressions like that on his own; combined with his burgeoning sense of humour, he is delightful to listen to.