Back to School. Sorta.

Posted: August 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

So y’all know we’re unschoolers, right? To me, the most important aspect of being an unschooler is following the learner’s lead and needs. Radical unschoolers disagree and insist that no workbooks or structure or expectations should be placed on a child, but I don’t do dogma — I do what works for my family. And yes, I will continue to call us unschoolers, even as I have now begun to use traditional resources for the boys.

 Noah is one subject away from meeting my graduation standards: algebra. He argued vehemently against this, but I figured if the Commonwealth of Virginia holds it as a minimal requImageirement for its special ed students, he should have no problems with it. Weird hangup I’ve got, I know, but there you have it. In the meantime, Noah convinced me that perhaps he doesn’t need a complete algebra course for Real Life. And so I have conceded a bit and am putting together an algebra/consumer math hybrid for him. I’m madly learning about music royalties and business math in preparation for teaching him. Someone, shoot me. The joys of home education!

At least I found a pretty good algebra text that incorporates a lot of real-world application. Wish me luck. The most challenging aspect of this, actually, is not the math itself but rather the consistency required of me in sitting down with him to do the work. I’ve become dangerously laid-back.

Aengus, OTOH, has reached an age and stage in which he is craving a bit more structure. Not sure if he knows that yet, but Mom can tell. So we had our “first day of school” here in the ‘Hood yesterday.
For new visitors: all you need to know is that Aengus, now eleven, is completely unschooled, having learned pretty much everything he knows from playing games. We began a structured reading program last year when he became distressed that he did not yet know how to read. This is very, very common among unschoolers, and I had utter faith in veterans’ testimonies that unschooled kids pick up reading very easily on their own, but at a much later age than schooled children. I was fine with that; Aengus was not. So he has a little experience with workbooks, but not much.

So we saImaget down at the dining room table (WTF? All these years and I still equate structured learning with sitting at a desk. Must work on that.) and proceeded to “do school.” For now, this includes just his reading, a little handwriting practice, and math. But the math is new and exciting: geometry! Purists will tell you that unschoolers get geometry through living life, just as they get everything else. And they do, eventually.

But Aengus wants to feel like he’s being taught something, so I’m using a workbook that Noah once used and which I love for its real world relevance. We had fun working through the first pages together, and the map they used for teaching types of lines gave us the opportunity to get out the globe and run off on a geography tangent.

And workbooks or no, THAT is what unschooling is about.


We’ve been kind of busy here in the ‘Hood lately, doing some really awesome stuff.

I somewhat reluctantly accompanied my friend to see her favorite band, Kasabian, when they came to D.C. I was reluctant only because I was so very unfamiliar with their music. What little I’d heard was a bit too . . . ethereal for my taste. But I love this friend dearly, and no evening out with her is ever bad, so of course I was on board.


Serge, just being Serge.


We had a really, really good time, and not just because the show was fabulous and my friend was reduced to little-girl squeals of delight and she got to meet members of the band. No, the best part for me is what I always experience when this friend and I get together: a return to myself.

As mothers, our world often becomes our children. That is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned, (though that’s not a universally-held belief). I love being a mother almost as much as I love my children themselves, and I would not change my status as full-time mom unless I had no other choice.

But the fact remains that we are not only mothers: we are still women; still citizens; still wives and volunteers and professionals and writers and neighbors and learners and many, many other things as well. It is easy to get so wrapped up in our children’s lives and caretaking that we — I forget about the rest of me. Worse, I often remember the real me but relegate her to lowest woman on the totem pole.

Going to these clubs and concerts with my friend makes me not just honor those parts of me that are so often shunted aside to make way for parenting; it makes me feel as though all my parts are whole again. Read the rest of this entry »

What the hell happened to winter??? It’s March already, and we had only two snowfalls this year — one was before Halloween, which is just crazy. It seems like it’s been spring for ages already.

At any rate, my mom visited us last weekend, which was wonderful. She let me play with her new toy, and I now have a serious case of iPad 2 envy.


  • Aengus, left, on my iPad; and my mom, right, on her fancy-shmancy iPad 2.
  • We all played mini golf together, which was an absolute blast, and we went out to eat at the Wood Grill Buffet.

    Let me tell you: if you ever need to feel better about yourself, head to a buffet. Holy shit.

    We also tried shopping in downtown Harrisonburg, where “Restaurant Week” was just beginning. Turns out that the only places open in downtown Harrisonburg on a Sunday are the restaurants.

      And they wonder why our economy is flopping like a fish on a river bank.

    But wait! One other place was open: the art gallery/store. It was really quite nice to look at locally-created sculptures, jewelry, paintings, and wood carvings. I love that Noah enjoys such things (and wish there were more galleries around here), and it was nice to have an opportunity to explain art to Aengus.

    I miss having art in my life. I miss a lot of things that I put away in exchange for parenthood. I’m not entirely sure why I would do such a thing. My children may not share my passion for, say, architecture, but that’s no reason to live a life devoid of these pleasures. And as it turns out, the boys actually enjoy art and architecture quite a lot.


    This week: Friday night was family night at the shooting range. ::sigh:: We are coming dangerously close to belonging here in Asscrack. Let the record show, though: my target had the tightest grouping in the family — and it was my first time!

    (No pictures of my awesomeness, of course. No one ever takes my picture. I hope they regret it one day, motherfuckers. That’s okay, I don’t mind.)

    I didn’t see much of the family on Saturday, as I was working in the morning and enjoyed some time with friends in the afternoon. But we did eat blackberry pie and watch Hugo together that night, which was . . . not as good as I was expecting. On both counts.

    I found a this on the clearance rack at the store yesterday.


    Why would I buy a broken bunny, you ask? Well for starters, it was only two dollars. That chocolate’s worth at least that much, in any form. But the real reason is because I have plans. Easter plans. Plans that require a few supplies from the craft store and a mangled chocolate bunny. 🙂

    When I told Aengus my idea, he showed the kind of excitement for creativity I haven’t seen from him in . . . Well, ever.

    Stay tuned.

    Posted: March 13, 2012 in Aengus, Noah
    Tags: , ,

    After several years of Aengus begging for a beach trip, we finally made it. It was only for a weekend, but still — we had a blast!

    Sunshine! On our skin! Ack!

    Our hotel was pretty nice, for starters: oceanfront, kitchenette, 2 queen beds in a separate bedroom, plus a sofabed for Aengus. And a balcony, for Jason and his filthy habit. (X_X) Both an indoor and an outdoor pool, pool bar, free breakfast buffet, and right on the boardwalk. Very nice.

    Noah and Shelby were able to walk the Strip and buy themselves junk food and hang out on the beach at will, which I think they rather enjoyed. But they also chose to stay with the rest of the family much of the time, which was nice. ❤

    Aengus absolutely LOVED swimming in the ocean and digging in the sand. Mostly, he loved being crashed around by the waves — which scared the complete shit out of me! Oh, ha ha, the all-powerful ocean is tumbling you around like a fly in a toilet bowl. What fun. {SMH} I was a basket case the whole time, and even more so when a man nearly drowned nearby.


    Edit: Did I really never finish or publish this? What the hell is wrong with me? I have no idea what else I’d planned to say about the trip, sorry. But we had a lot fun! This year’s trip will be to NYC, in honor of Noah’s 18th birthday. SOB.

    Posted: March 12, 2012 in Aengus, Noah

    I can’t believe summer is almost over already. And what have we done with our time?

    Aengus and his cousin, protecting the campsite.

    Aengus experimented with Mentos and Diet Coke; played Portal 2, Geometry Wars, Minecraft, GMod, and the new Nazi Zombies map; and got into watching Dr. Who, My Wife and Kids, George Lopez, Top Shot, and the BBC’s Sherlock. He got a few swimming lessons from his dad, had many sleepovers, jumped on our new (to us) trampoline, and put some time in on the treadmill. He went camping with his dad, his uncle, and his cousin. He helped Jason fix our lawnmower and build the playing field for his Lego team’s robot. Oh yeah, and he joined a FIRST Lego League team.

    Mark (sound engineer), Garrett, Grant, and Noah intently listening to their recording.

    Noah spent some time with his friends on the XBox with Portal 2, Catherine, and several other games. He also got in on the lawnmower lesson, which morphed into a car maintenance lesson. He and I continued working on learning Japanese, plus he started reviewing pre-algebra concepts and US history in the run-up to this fall’s studies. But much of his summer was spent at his friends’ house, practicing for several gigs . . . including the local Battle of the Bands, which they won! The hands-down highlight of his summer was their prize: six solid hours in a REALLY nice recording studio with a professional sound engineer. He was positively beaming the whole time. ❤

    Shelby and Noah gettin’ their Amish on at Roots.

    Together, we visited my family in Pennsylvania, which we always love. Shelby came with us again, and we always love that, too. We went to Roots, a big-ass farmers market, went swimming at their enormous community center, walked their gigantic mall, and checked out That Fish Place, a huge pet store.

    Why is everything in PA so big?!?

    The highlight of the week (for Noah and Shelby, and I think for Aengus, but definitely for me) was seeing the final Harry Potter movie. We were able to see it in the theater where Noah and I watched the very first movie on opening night. This time, though, they sold butterbeer slushies. With alcohol.

    Shelby, Noah, Aengus, and myself at the Ephrata Main Theater for Harry Potter.
    Jason and Aengus at the handgun range.

    We recently went shooting in West Virginia, which was beautiful but WAY the fuck out there. I would die of isolation in West Virginia, but it might be nice to stay for a few days in a cabin in the woods.

    Noah being goofy, as usual.

    Going forward, I’m making a concerted effort to blog with real regularity. I HAVE to, for my own sake (I forget everything!) as much as for the boys (who might need such records one day) and their grandparents (who miss the closeness they had with the boys when we lived nearby).

    We’ve spent the last few weeks establishing the new routine we need to accomplish all of our goals. Noah’s goals include finishing my requirements for graduation, furthering his Japanese studies, taking some web design classes, getting a job, getting a drivers license, and becoming truly capable of independence.

    Aengus is working diligently toward reading independence, of course, because he desperately wants a laptop all his own. We are not above bribery. He will also continue working on his math skills, learn some world history, do lots of science experiments, and participate in his FIRST Lego League team. Oh, and he wants to learn to cook, as well.

    None of which is all that ambitious for most families these days, of course. But we have been savoring the quiet life for a long time now; I’m not sure I’ll be able to sustain the energy required to do it all for nine months. Wish us luck!

    I’ve not been blogging for a while — obviously. I attended the VAHomeschoolers Conference last week, though, and feel inspired to get my act together again. “Scared straight” would be another way to phrase it.

    While I’ve been busy being negligent, the kids have continued with their lives, learning as they live and play. A few particularly educational events from the past six months stand out in my memory, though:

    Having so much fun they even posed for a picture.

    Jason and I surprised the kids with box seats at a Video Games Live concert. It. Was.






    And I’m not all that into gaming myself. Noah said he’d love to go again, and that’s high praise from him. I thought it was a fabulous way to introduce young people to the symphony orchestra. {music appreciation}


    He CAN get up at 9am!

    Noah recently took a two month Saturday Morning Physics class at the local college. I’m not sure how much he actually got out of the class; it was held at 9am, so he often used planetarium time for a nap. I think the material was a bit over his head as well. Still, he was exposed to a college-like situation, which is something.


    Noah’s Japanese studies are going well for him, but I have completely let the ball drop there. He wanted me to teach him, but since I don’t already know Japanese I said we could learn together. Not only do I lack the consistency needed to teach him the he’d like, I also don’t have a curriculum that lays it out, lesson by lesson for him. The books we’ve bought are for a person who wants to visit Japan — which we do, but we want to actually learn the language, not just memorize key sentences.

    I recently discovered a great app for my iPad, however, so my own studies are back on track. We’re not yet back to doing lessons together, though, which is what I’m striving for.

    Also, Noah’s ability with computers and electronics surprises me. He’s dismantled our XBox and controllers and apparently does amazing things wih his computer. He’s asked to take a computer course at the Community College this summer, which I’m very excited for him to experience.


    Studio time was bliss.

    Music, of course, remains Noah’s primary activity, and all is going well. He and his band, ((The Evidence Of)), have been practicing a lot lately in preparation for their big gig later this month. Stay tuned. =D



    Aengus has been busy discovering various YouTube personalities, reviewers, and comics. Though he’s discovered computers rather later than his brother, Aengus is finally learning to navigate his way through the internet. Only a little, though, as he can’t yet read what he’s clicking on.

    And speaking of reading . . . Aengus’s frustration with being unable to read has reached an all-time high. I have absolute faith in unschoolers’ insistence that reading comes easily when children are not pushed. But Aengus views his inability to read when so many younger people can has him feeling really, really stupid. And I can’t just sit back and wait anymore.

    So, we’ve instituted Operation: Reading. He and I are now working our way through Explode the Code, a little every day, until he feels comfortable with reading on his own. We’ve just started book four, by the end of which I suspect I can hand him some Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes books. Come to think of it, I’ll give him Garfield tonight!

    Even better than now making a deliberate effort to learn how to read, Aengus has finally —finally!– started enjoying being read to. This child never liked storytime or lullabyes — only one of the ways in which he is unusual. =P I don’t know what finally clicked in his head, but he requested that I read Harry Potter to him.

    ~pause for happy dance~

    While reading Harry, I was astounded once again by all the learning along the way: Latin, mythology, vocabulary, history, interpersonal relationships, politics, ethics, . . . . I really wish I’d been blogging then, because we paused all the time for mini lessons.

    We just finished the series the other day (I was once again crying my eyes out), and he was concerned about what we’d read next. He now has a huge list of books he wants me to read to him! Noah requested A Series of Unfortunate Events, so that’s where we’ll start, then Artemis Fowl and The Hunger Games. Nothing beats Harry, though. ❤

    Oh, and we adopted a puppy back in January and named him ‘Buster (as in Myth). This was him at 3  and 4.5 months old:

    Just a wee lit’le pup!
    Buster, Bear, and Vinnie

    He is now, at six months old, nearly a hundred pounds! (pics coming soon)

    Aengus, in particular, has been helping with the training and raising of ‘Buster. He and Jason love watching The Dog Whisperer together and implementing Cesar’s methods. {biology, life skills, leadership}

    We scored a trampoline from Freecycle, and it’s been a big hit with both boys and their friends. {P.E., socialization} If  it continues to need repairs, we can add sewing to that list of  learning opportunities, LOL. And the debate about whether we actually needed the net became a lesson about safety. 😉

    Just yesterday, Aengus and I started reading about the Egyptians. {world history} He says he wants to do some of the activities from Story of the World (which I LOVE), so I’m excited for us to start that. For now, though, we’re just reading a bit and discussing what we’ve read.

    And that right there, folks, is the key to successfully home educating your children.

    Aengus spent a lot of time there for a while watching Netflix, especially That 70’s Show, Mythbusters, Doctor Who and Torchwood. {modern U.S. history, science, critical thinking} The complexity of the ongoing and crossover plots is what really excited him about Doctorr Who and Torchwood, I think.

    That, and who doesn’t want a Tardis?

    I’m Turning Japanese

    Posted: September 29, 2010 in Aengus, Noah
    Tags: ,

    Yesterday was whip-cracking day, and I’d call it mostly successful. The boys asked me to push them and I did, but there was little resistance and no fighting, so it was all good.

    The only problem we’re (I’m) still having is getting into a daily routine. Yesterday was pretty relaxed until after dinner (which was late for us, as I had been at work), when Aengus and I did some math together (subtraction with borrowing, which he caught on to very quickly). In my fantasies, one kid helps with dinner each day and one cleans up afterwards . . . but we’ll have to work up to that. Baby steps.

    Aengus and I never got around to phonics work, so there’s room for improvement there. Still, it worked out nicely that when Noah got on the XBox to play with his friend, Aengus and I were able to do some academic work together. The ultimate goal for this time in our day will be to also do some science and history activities and read together. Baby steps.

    After Noah finished his turn on the XBox and Aengus got back on to play with his friend, Noah approached me about finally setting to work. It was 11:30. At night.

    Reminding myself that this is my job (and that my idea of a convenient time to do academics is irrelevant), I turned off Jon Stewart and dragged out the books. First up: probability. We used the Basic, Not Boring workbook to get us started and watched the first of the Khan Academy series on the subject. Noah looked bored to tears, but he knows I’m insisting on more math work. And although this book is for younger students, we needed to start somewhere, right?

    Math didn’t take long, though, and we were soon working on Japanese. Thanks to lots of recommendations and advice from fellow homeschoolers, we’re trying several resources to learn the language. I’m waiting for my copy of the Berlitz Essential Japanese program to arrive (and a workbook to help us learn Kana), but until then, I discovered a fabulous workbook at Barnes and Noble:
    Japanese in 10 Minutes a Day
    . Between the 10 Minutes a Day workpages and the books we’ve already checked out from the library, we were zooming through some lessons last night. I told him about mnemonic devices and we came up with a few to help us (study skills). We got him registered with Live Mocha, so now we can both do those lessons together.

    He stated that we need a set time each day to work on learning Japanese and asked that I wake him up at one o’clock and get to work with him by three. And I am totally on board with this request. But I’m also okay with the schedule we kept yesterday: sleep late, relax, eat late, work, go to bed late. I’m willing to adjust my own body rhythm to accommodate the kids’ prime learning times — as long as I still get my eight hours at some point.

    We also talked a lot about the trip he wants to take for his 18th birthday. It seems he still wants to bring Shelby — and not Aengus. 😦 I told him tough tooties, we are NOT going halfway around the world and experiencing a completely different and utterly fascinating culture without him. It’s the learning adventure of a lifetime for all of us. Besides, I said, he’ll be two years older than he is now. He’ll be more mature by then.

    And we talked about how much this trip will cost. He was shocked when I told him what I was budgeting (hell, I’m still in shock, too). I hope he’ll help me find ways to cut the costs, like lowering his lodging standards a bit and opting for making our own meals when we can. But he did tell me that all he wants for Christmas is a Nintendo 3DS, and any other gifts can be cash for the trip. And all I’m asking for is  a vacuum cleaner and money for the Japan fund. We’ve been filling the piggy bank for a month now, and searching out every penny in the sofa or on the sidewalk. And you may laugh, but we’ve also decided to create a thermometer-like visual aid to gauge our savings progress.

    I’ll be adding a PayPal donation button to this blog, for anyone who would like to contribute to this huge undertaking. I won’t start begging for handouts, but if you ever feel compelled to assist in the fundraising effort to give the boys this incredible cultural experience, we would be ever so appreciative. 😉

    But first, Noah will have to show me how to do it.