Friday, June 25, 2010

Our workspace...

Seriously, this is my workspace...kind of hard to imagine how non-Lego based crafting gets done, eh?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Travelin' Thursday...

Whew! Time is ticking!  JP and I leave for our cross-country adventure in only 34 days!  Can you believe that???  I can't!  I feel like we still have so much to do in order to prepare.  Everything from continuing to sort, purge, pack to planning logistics, to getting important papers together to....EVERYTHING!

Excuse me while I take a moment to have a stress-relieving scream....

Much better now that the screaming is done with.  Now, down to business! writing in order to prolong the inevitable packing, planning, purging, sorting...

The last *major* move I made was in October, 2002 and it was from Portland, Oregon to Northern California.  It was a fast, scary move that I felt I had no choice but to make.  I was escaping an abusive relationship and trying to save the emotional and mental health of myself and my child.  It was tough!  I couldn't have done it without my sister and my brother-in-law.  At the time, I felt broken emotionally, mentally, financially.  I was physically drained from stress and worry.  I asked my sister and her husband to help, and they did.  In 24 hours they were in Portland, got a moving truck, got it packed, and helped me finish up some last minute details.  I left so many things behind!  So many things!  I had no choice.  I had to grab the things that were most important to me, the essentials for getting by, and that was it.  I had to leave most of the things that I merely liked but wanted to keep.  I left books.  I left dishes and pots and pans.  I left a few pieces of furniture.  I left tons of JP's toys.  I left so much stuff.  BUT, I also left with my self and my child intact.  I left with a foundation to build on.  

I never want to make *that* kind of move again.  Never.

So, in 34 days, what kind of move do I *want* to make?  I want to make a move that is filled with fun, adventure, and excitement!  I want this to be a move where, although we will have many uncertainties, it will be fun to experience the road ahead.  Thankfully, this time, if we leave things behind, I know they will be safe.  If we leave things behind, we can come back for them later, and we can know that my mom will keep our things for us.  

In 34 days, we will be off to see 13 states over the course of about 17 days.  We will stop in cities, towns, and other locations of historic significance.  We will stop in places that are one of a kind - places we may never have visited otherwise.  And, with JP being on the cusp of 12 years old, we are doing it at the perfect time!  JP is already an excellent traveler, having been up and down the Pacific Coast by car numerous times, and having flown to Mexico City and back.  He loves looking out the window and seeing the changing scenery.  He loves thinking about (and discussing) what the area would have been like a few hundred years ago.  He loves seeing historic sites and envisioning what it would have been like to live there.  JP even loves the drudgery of travel - he loves going for miles with nothing really to see except more of the same stuff he saw for the last four hours.  He loves taking turns choosing what to listen to on the radio or cd player.  He loves stopping at rest stops and comparing how each one is different from the others - "Mom! This one has Doritos!  The last one only had M and M's in the vending machine! And, do you remember the first rest stop today that had NO vending machines and a broken toilet?"  Seriously, my kid *LIKES* rest stops...weird...

I wish I could be as laid back and relaxed about this adventure as my boy.  But, I can't.  I have to do all of the planning.  I have to worry about how much this trip will cost.  I have to worry about having cell phone service if we have a problem.  I have to worry about where we will stay each night.  I have to worry about....everything.  So, I'm trying to focus less on the big picture and more on breaking things down step by step...but, that picture is BIG and hard to ignore.  This is a HUGE move.  This is our entire lives changing dramatically for at least the next two years while I go to graduate school in another state...on another coast...where we know one person that we haven't seen or spoken to regularly since were kids and saw each other during annual vacations.

This is huge.

How are we going to do it?  How can we not do it?  This is huge...huge in a positive way.  Huge in a reshaping our futures for success and living out our dreams kind of way.  I mean, isn't that what living in the United States of America should be all about?  Just because it is 2010 and our economy has all but fallen apart and times ahead are so uncertain for so many of us doesn't mean anyone should give up the fabled "American Dream."  If anything, those of us that have felt bogged down should say, "I HAVE A DREAM AND I AM GOING TO MAKE IT A REALITY!  I CAN AND I WILL!"  Stay tuned as JP and I make our dreams become realities!  

As always, I would love to hear from anyone that has made a cross-country move by car.  Advice?  Thanks for reading!

Love, M and J

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


BREAKING NEWS!  Our art has been published online by the literacy magazine, Literacy Head!!!  Literacy Head aims to teach literacy through art.  They contacted me a few weeks ago about including this piece with the word "zigzag" and it was just published!

The piece featured:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Response to "The Loneliness of Genius"

Do you have a child that is considered "gifted" or that you suspect falls into that category?   I do.  My nearly 12 year old son, JP, falls into that category.  Ever since he began to speak and develop his personal interests, others have noticed.  At three and four years old, my adult friends were calling him "the little professor" because he was already obsessed with physics, numbers, and words in ways that other young children aren't.  In 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, he had horrible problems fitting in at school.  On the playground, he was becoming the weird kid that the others avoid.  When they wanted to play soccer or basketball, JP wanted to talk about astrophysics and alternate universe theories.  He just didn't fit in and it was beginning to turn into a serious problem.  So, I finally decided to start homeschooling him!  I figured that by homeschooling, we could move at JP's pace (in most subjects he was far ahead and bored in school), and we could meet other quirky kids just like him.  And, I was totally right!  JP is infinitely happier, still thinking constantly about physics, numbers, and words, and he is just blossoming into a wonderful young man!

So, it was with great interest that I read an article called "The Loneliness of Genius" by Rod Dreher.  I recall feeling just like the kids that Rod describes and I saw these same things in my son before we began to homeschool

Here is my response to that article:

This sounds sooooo much like my son.  My son was assessed as "gifted" in early elementary school and this article is such a perfect description of what my son and I deal with.  He is just shy of 12 years old and struggles with basic math facts yet can figure out complex physics problems intuitively and correctly.  He talks about all kinds of scientific "stuff" that I can barely comprehend and is basically teaching himself.  He also intuitively composes beautiful poetry and hilarious short stories.  He writes fantastic, complex music with his keyboard but has no formal training other than several lessons from his 18 year old cousin.

He has extremely few friends his own age but *many* friends who are either several years younger or adults.  So many of the adults in his life have been fantastic at helping to guide my son.  He gravitates towards adults while most kids his age shy away from them.  He counts *my* friends as his own friends. 

The best advice that I have for any other parent with a kid like this is to consider homeschooling.  And, if for some reason you can't homeschool, consider an alternative school situation of some sort or have a trusted friend or family member help you manage homeschooling.  If I can homeschool as a single, working mother, then you can find a way to homeschool or give your child an alternative education as well.  Surround your child with positive adult role models that understand how special these kids are.  Give them as much access to sound educational materials as possible but also give them opportunities to have fun within the parameters of their interests - golf and archery are both exciting and fun for my son but in large part because they involve physics and math.  ALL of my son's "fun" and "recreational" interests involve science, language, or math in a very intense way.  On the surface it may look like his just playing with Lego's but in his mind, I know he is seeing 3-D objects and problems and trying to work out solutions.  But, to him this is FUN. 

It is very easy to cause these kids to burn out or to become self-defeating perfectionists.  Recognize that they have their own needs that are very different from what we are lead to believe children need and then go with it.  As a parent, I had to figure out on my own that it is ok for my son to be "different."  He doesn't need to adjust.  He doesn't need to fit in.  He doesn't need to "man up" as a former friend once told me.  He needs to be emotionally and intellectually supported.  As a kid, I was told more than once that I didn't "need to know" about this or that topic because it simply wasn't what the teacher wanted me to learn.  I was always intellectually hungry but because of the way the traditional school system is set up, I only had time and energy to learn what the school system wanted to teach me.  I took honors and college prep classes because it was the only way to feel challenged (and even then, not really...).  But, by the time I graduated from high school, I was burnt out on studying.  I hated school and was bored.  I don't want that for my son.  Instead of asking him to meet me where *I* am, I strive to meet him where *HE* is intellectually and emotionally.  This has been the biggest key to our success as a homeschooling family with a gifted child.  He still has to do his chores.  He still has to follow my rules.  He still has to do actual school work.  But, beyond that, he is free to be himself and not what some institution or group of others thinks he should be.

When I first told my son's 4th grade teacher that we would be homeschooling after the winter break, the teacher was delighted.  He thought it was just what JP needed emotionally and intellectually.  He felt that to continue public school (or even private school) would just break JP down and that it would lead to disastrous consequences.  JP's childhood may be moving along a path of carefree joy, but he is heading towards a fantastically wonderful adulthood!  Getting there hasn't been without struggles, and I am sure there will be more ahead, but recognizing that the path won't be easy, and finding alternative solutions, like homeschooling, have helped tremendously along the way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moving Prep - Trying Not to be Overwhelmed...

Wow!  We have less than a month and a half left before we move!  I can hardly believe it!  I am excited but nervous too!!!!  JP is getting more and more excited with each passing day as well, but I don't sense any nervousness on his part.

We have already sold or donated a lot of stuff but have tons more to get rid of.  Then, we have to figure out what to pack now and what to pack right before we go.  And, what to pack in our trailer vs. what to pack in the car for easy access.  And, should we ship anything?  Should we leave some stuff at my mom's house until we know if we'll stay in New York long term?  Not to mention a few legal items to take care of before we go (nothing major...just some paperworky type of stuff).  And, medical check ups for both of us, and for the dog.  And, and, and...

I have set aside one box that will absolutely go in the car with us.  It will have a few trip essentials since we are driving cross-country from California, north to Washington, and then east to New York.  In that box, I already have:
* rolls of toilet paper
* packages of disposable toilet seat covers
* first aid and allergy kits
* French Press for my morning coffee
* two picnic plates and picnic silverware
* two bath towels and washclothes
* travel pillows

But, there are so many more things to consider!

And, during our travels, I plan to have a box of our main Etsy (M and J Designs) inventory as well as our secondary Etsy shop (Marbles and Jam) inventory in the car with us as well so our shop will stay open as we travel!  Did you know that most McDonald's locations now have free Wi-Fi and that on July 1st most Starbucks locations will begin to offer the same?  So, I will still be checking in on our Etsy and Zazzle shops, our Facebook fan page, Twitter, email, and this blog...

If you travel long distances by car, or have gone cross-country in the United States, what are your tried and true tips?  The more tips, the better!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We call them.....poop cookies!

OK, in all fairness, these cookies are really just a basic refrigerator cookie of the chocolate-oatmeal variety.  But, my sister and I jokingly refer to them as "poop cookies" because, well, they aren't pretty!  In fact, despite tasting oooooooh so good, these suckers are downright ugly!  But, did I mention that they taste SO GOOD!?!?!?

This is one of those recipes that I've been in love with since childhood but I could never find the scrap of paper that I had it written down on.  So, last year, in a fit of organization and frenzy, I scanned, typed, and copied all of my recipes to my computer (heaven forbid I have a crash as they aren't backed up yet! Eep....note to self: back up hard drive and all files!).

This is *MY* variation of the classic No Bake Oatmeal Cookie.  Please check out the notes at the end of the recipe...  This makes a big batch as I doubled the original recipe and we like to make our cookies HUGE!


2 sticks (1 cup) margarine
1 Cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 Cups granulated sugar
2 Cups rice milk
5 Cups oatmeal
1 Cup ground flax meal
1 Cup sunflower seed butter
1 Tbsp vanilla

In a very large pot, combine margarine, cocoa powder, sugar, and rice milk.  Stir over medium heat until the margarine has melted and your ingredients have mixed together.  You should see little bubbles forming at the edge but do NOT boil.

Remove from the heat.  Add oatmeal, flax, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla.  Stir until well combined and sticking together.

Drop by rounded spoonful onto wax paper on baking sheets.  Make the spoonfuls as big or small as you like.  Cool and store in the refrigerator.

I can't tell you how long these last because we usually have eaten the entire batch in under three days! 

Now, go lick the bowl and spoons clean!  YUMMY!

**When adding the oatmeal and flax, keep an eye on the consistency as you stir.  If it is appearing dry, stop adding these ingredients.  If it still is super wet and not sticking together, add a bit more at a time until it sticks together in a lump on your spoon.

**Due to allergies we use a dairy and soy-protein free margarine.  This is also why we use rice milk.  Feel free to use regular butter and regular milk or soy.  We also have a peanut allergy, but the original recipe calls for peanut butter.

**Want to add a little kick?  Try adding a tablespoon of instant espresso powder!!!

**Instead of vanilla, consider adding some mint extract!

**If you aren't allergic to nuts, you could substitute the flax or a *small* amount of oatmeal with finely chopped nuts.

**If you like raisins, they might make an interesting addition.  Personally, however, I can't stand raisins.  Funny that I'm willing to eat a cookie that we refer to as poop but I won't eat something that looks like a booger....hmmm.....


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Monday, June 14, 2010

2009 - 2010 Year in Homeschooling Roundup

Well, the 2009-2010 school year is coming to an end for us.  For those that don't know, we are a homeschooling family.  By age JP is in the 6th grade but his work ranges from 6th up to 8th or 9th, depending on the subject.  This was an interesting year for us as we decided to try a charter school program.  Financially it was a great decision but in terms of some of the curriculum choices, it left a bit to be desired.  But, I'm not going to blog about the charter.  Instead, this is a curriculum roundup and I will be talking about what materials we used, what we liked, and what we didn't like so much.

Of course, we covered all of the basic subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math.  But, JP also was able to take some golf lessons and he got his first taste of archery.  JP also got his first taste of German. We went on a few science adventures and field trips, and soaked up so much from just living and paying attention to the world around us!
What subject shall we tackle first?  Language Arts?  Well, alrighty then!  Let's get started...

For Language Arts, we continued working on a writing program that involved both impromptu writing assignments (Mom:  I think you should write a short story today.  JP: Ok...) and formal assignments.

WRITING: We have been working out of a series of workbooks designed for 3rd graders, but we skipped several parts and I added information along the way to make the work more challenging and bring it up to a 6th grade level.  The workbooks are called "Just Write" and are published by EPS (Educator Publishing Service).  When JP left public school, writing was a HUGE problem.  The program imposed by JP's former public school had made writing difficult by imposing rigid rules about how to write paragraphs.  JP was afraid to write *more* because he thought he couldn't due to the rules.  We had to break down all the silly rules that the school insisted on and start from scratch.  That was two and a half years ago but we are still dealing with some of the aftermath.  The Just Write books are relaxed and easy going.  Again, these are meant for 3rd graders, but with some careful manipulation, probing questions and discussion, and analyzing the workbook lessons in comparison to our regular reading materials, these books were a perfect fit for JP's needs.  We also did many of the workbook lessons orally and JP wrote the longer exercises on the computer word processor.

GRAMMAR - Honestly, Easy Grammar is about the driest curriculum I have ever seen.  So, why use?  Because it is effective!  The workbook starts with prepositions and prepositional phrases and once those are mastered the rest becomes pretty easy.  We did the bulk of the work orally and when JP had obviously mastered a segment, we skipped the rest of the lesson and moved on.  Almost every lesson incorporates previous lessons as well so there is no real need for review.  The program builds on itself from lesson to lesson.  The series starts off with early elementary school and goes through 6th grade.  The final book is, according to the local homeschooling store owner, a 7th/8th grade level.

SOCIAL STUDIES:  For social studies, we take a very eclectic approach.  We decided to start over with history and start from the earliest historical times and work our way forwards.  For modern current events, we listened to lots of NPR, read the newspaper, and watched video of events such as President Obama's Message for America's Students.  The spine for our history curriculum is an amazing book from National Geographic called The Visual History of the World.  This book is HUGE and in full color.  Every page has a timeline and many photos, charts, and graphs.  It is densely packed with information.  After every small segment, I looked for a video on one of the educational channels on television, or on Netflix, to reinforce the information we had just read.  We both are enjoying this book and it is so thick that we will easily go another two years before finishing it!

SCIENCE:  Science was a struggle this year.  A major struggle.  The charter program we used wouldn't allow us to have our preferred curriculum.  We wanted to use Noeo Science but, while most of the materials are secular, a few minor pieces were too sectarian for public school funds to be used for their purchase.  Even without those parts, however, we still couldn't get this curriculum.  Next year, I plan to buy it with my own money.  Not doing so this year was a big mistake.  When we first began homeschooling, we used Noeo's Chemistry I curriculum and it was FANTASTIC!  I highly recommend Noeo to both homeschoolers and to non-homeschoolers who want something extra or different.  Next year we will try Physics II.  Noeo kits are a complete curriculum with everything from the teacher's guide to texts to experiment materials.  Most of the other materials you need for experiments, however, are things you will find around your home. 

So, what did we do in place of Noeo? We played quite a bit of this game: The Way Things Work.  It has three levels of play, with the first involving simply answering questions and the other two involve doing experiments.  We also tried a variety of experiment booklets but found that most were lacking and only about half of the experiments worked.  However, JP took golf lessons this spring, and guess what?  There is a LOT of physics in golf!  A LOT!  So, we looked up physics and golf and read many articles on the topic.  JP also watched several videos from many sources on all manner of scientific topics.  His favorite?  The tv show Mythbusters!

MATH: This year for math, we took a departure from traditional curriculums.  Our approach to math this year involved two different curriculums that seem to compliment each other well.  We used Life of Fred: Fractions and Key To workbooks.  Why two curriculums?  Well, Life of Fred didn't give JP enough practice problems and Key To was a bit boring on it's own.  The two go together quite nicely.

Life of Fred is a fun series of books!  They follow a specific sequence, beginning with fractions.  In this series, you will meet Fred.  Fred is a five year old professor of math at Kittens University.  Silly, right?  But that is the key!  That is the hook that will get your kid into this math curriculum.  The series follows Fred in a narrative fashion as he works his way through various problems in life - like how to buy a bike and how to divide ingredients among various pizzas.  The books are like one huge word problem but they are *FUN* while being educational.  JP and I both enjoyed Life of Fred: Fractions and in the fall will begin the Decimals text.

The Key To workbooks are quite different.  They also start with fractions and then move to decimals.  However, you could easily start with a different math concept, if you so choose.  The workbooks are set up as a series of four booklets per most topics.  JP just finished the fractions workbooks but had started on the decimals selection after he hit a point of fractions burnout.  He ended up going back and forth between the two and then realized, on his own, that decimals and fractions are really representations of the same thing.

Next year, we will finish up Just Write-book 3.  We will continue on with the next level of Easy Grammar, Life of Fred, and Key To.  In addition, we will continue on with Visual History of the World.  But, I am at a loss as to where to go next with writing.  We have tried a variety of writing programs, including the widely acclaimed Writing Strands, but so far we haven't found anything else that works for us.  Any thoughts?  Beyond those things, we will continue to explore JP's personal interests - golf, archery, German, and drawing.  Since we will be on the east coast, we also anticipate much learning about history and science by exploring the areas around us.  You can't get much more up close and personal with history than visits to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Salem, and so many more important locations in the history of the United States!  And, all of the museums that will be at our fingertips?!?!?!  I can't wait for the adventures to come!