Monday, October 26, 2009

Date night at Uchi

On Monday, Greg turned 32. Usually, he can't think of anything he wants or would like to do for his birthday, but this year, he decided that we would go on a date to a the world renowned sushi restaurant in Austin, Uchi.

It's hard to describe what followed; I can only tell you that it was absolutely The Best dinner at a restaurant ever. In my life.

No more words, just pictures (fully gallery here).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

1st Soccer Game

Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful comments on my last post. It's been encouraging to read your responses, and also to the one that I posted on my fiber site.

Andrew and Elijah had their 1st soccer game last week, and won, with Andrew scoring one of the goals! Today they played for a second time, and didn't fare as well, but they had fun, which, when you're in the Preschool/Kindergarten age group, is really all that matters. Here are some pictures from last week (you may notice a funny blurring on their shirts -- I smudged out the town name for the sake of general online safety):

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

To homeschool or not to homeschool: our family's choice

NOTE: It is my dearest hope that this post does not offend anyone. I fully realize that the method of schooling a child is up to every individual family, and that it is a personal choice. I also realize that for some families, homeschooling has never been a consideration or an option, and that is perfectly fine.

Greg and I were both homeschooled, so this seemed an obvious place for us to start in our ideas for our own children. Please keep this in mind when you read the following. What you will read below is simply our family's journy through the educational landscape thus far.

Last year, I decided to take a stab at homeschooling. I knew that it would be challenging with the three children while pregnant with Jonah and Greg deployed, but at first, it was kind of exciting. I loved sitting on the couch with them to read -- not only for cuddle time, but with the intention of learning. I loved seeing them "get" something for the first time, and hearing their brilliant questions about things that I didn't always have answers for. I loved having the opportunity to be there, right next to Andrew and Elijah as they each sounded out their first words. It was thrilling to see them start to put the alphabet together, and to learn what it meant to write numbers and letters on a page.

On the flip side of this, however, every homeschooling day was a major challenge in balancing the teaching of the boys, and ensuring that I was really caring for Lavella. She, of course, had no interest in the chapter books or the math homework, or the slow, stop-start reading of the boys struggling through their first books. She wanted to race all around the living room, shouting things, singing songs, and trying to distract the boys in any way she could from what they were trying to do (or what I was trying to teach). This was understandable of course -- she's a toddler, and she needs me too. Every day was a struggle, an uphill climb.

In the morning, we'd eat breakfast, I'd tidy the kitchen, then we'd start school around 10am. We'd finish by 12, and eat lunch. By the time we were done eating and cleaning up after that, it was naptime. After naptime, I had to start preparations for dinner, and after dinner is clean-up (once again!), play, clean-up the toys (GAHH!!), and bedtime. I started to realize that homeschooling, for us, meant that it had to be our life, entirely. I was getting exhausted and burned out, and we hadn't even been at it for a complete semester. I felt like I was just about to be a failure.

Yes, we could have gone out on walks and playground visits and playgroups in the morning, leaving the afternoon for schooling while Lavella napped (so that we wouldn't have to worry about her distractions and needs), and but by that point in the day, everyone is tired and crabby and at least needs to take a "quiet time" -- especially me! After an entire day of people needing me and talking to me and grabbing on to me for something, anything, everything, I really need a break. Generally speaking, it's a bad idea for the mother of a bunch of children to just up and go STARK RAVING MAD.

I also could have gone about things in a more "unschooling" method like my mom did (who managed to homeschool all 9 of us, and several of us all the way through highschool), in which she often provided direction and inspiration, and then let us run with it ourselves, but I'm too much of a control freak for that, and need to know that my children are at least on level, if not exceeding, all of their traditionally schooled peers (i.e., I would not be comfortable with them excelling above their grade at reading, while being behind in math, trusting that we'd catch up later). Also, when Caleb, Hannah and I were very little, my mom did some co-op teaching with a small group of her friends, and so we were still able to get a little bit of a "real school" feeling, while taking some of the pressure off of her. My mom is an incredible person, and the longer that I am a mother myself, the more I respect and appreciate the sacrifice she gave of her time and energy while raising and teaching us. However, I digress.

As the homeschooling weeks ticked by, closer to Jonah's birth, I often wondered how he would change things. Once he was born, and I had a nursing baby to care for, I realized that there was no way that I could manage to homeschool my children while maintaining sanity. I would literally have no day, no life. My every single waking moment would have had to be strictly organized, teaching the boys between the overwhelming needs of a baby and toddler combined. The idea was beyond overwhelming; it felt impossible.

When Greg first came here to Texas to find our new house, he decided to scout school districts as well. One day he called me and told me about this house, adding that it had an excellent Elementary school nearby...and I nearly cried. I cannot describe the relief that rushed over me when I realized that it might be possible to send them to a decent school, and what's more, that it was Greg's idea.

A few days after we moved here, I went over to the school with the boys to meet the school staff, and check out teachers and classrooms. I immediately felt a sense of peace and belonging, and the boys started to get excited. It was obvious from the start that the school was well run with people who really seemed to care about the students. The Pre-K and Kindergarten classes are arranged in a playfully educational way, and the curriculum is full of fun and color. I enrolled them that day (Sept. 22nd), and the next morning...

These two guys set off for their first day of school.

All day back at home, I wondered if it had been the right decision, if they would be OK without me, if I was ready to give them up to the school system for the majority of their weekdays. I wondered if Elijah would have emotional melt-downs, and if he would be treated tenderly and firmly. I wondered if they would be able to draw Andrew out, and make sure he felt included with the rest of the classroom. I wondered if either of my boys would fall through the educational cracks, and regress in their learning.

Elijah's class lets out an hour before Andrew's does, and at last, it was time to pick him up.

(A teacher walks each child across the school driveway to their parents for accountability in traffic)

It was so good to see him again. I had missed him like crazy. I felt slightly sick, and wasn't sure if I would be able to manage it the next day...and the day after that...and the day after that...

It was raining, so we camped out for snacks and visiting while we waited for Andrew's class to let out.

While he didn't have much to say about his day besides the color of his milk ("I had chocolate milk for lunch. And that's all. And I don't remember anything else. I did nothin' today."), he seemed remarkably unscathed by the experience.

Even... normal. Maybe this was going to be OK after all.

At last, it was time to get Andrew.

(Walking towards us in the rain with his teacher, tongue out, of course, as always.)

Suddenly they both had about 8-million things to tell me, all at once.

We continue to view this school with a wait-and-see attitude, ready to pull them out to homeschool again if it becomes necessary. However, by the look on Andrew's face, that may not need to be anytime soon.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Old Pecan Street Festival

On Sunday we went to the Old Pecan Street Festival in Austin. In retrospect, distancing myself by about a week from the 95+ degree heat and the unrelenting sun, I suppose it was a pretty swell time. In all reality, I plan to indoors, refrigerating myself with air conditioning until the weather can get to a manageable 72 deg or lower. Wait, what were we talking about? The festival! Right.

When we first got there, we came across a crowd of people gathered outside of a bar that had it's windows open to the public. When we peeked inside, we saw this 11-year-old, rocking out to Hendrix covers. The kid was seriously good. We looked him up when we got home, and he is Travis of The Travis Brown Band. Our children thought he was pretty cool, although the music was a little loud for their ears.

To our children, the entire point of a festival is to find rides and the like, so they were very excited when we finally made it over to the children's section.

After all of that jumping, they needed a little refreshment, so we stopped for some icy slushy drinks.

The syrups were in sort of a "buffet line" next to the booth that sold the drinks, so we may have refilled on syrup a few times... (shhh, don't tell...)

Also, no self-respecting US festival is complete without a good supply of cotton candy. This is Greg's preferred method of eating it:

First, he packs it down inside the bag.

Next, remove hardened lump.

And enjoy.

Personally, I think it's a little gross and kind of defeats the point of the airy, voluminous puff of sugar in the first place, but to each his own, I suppose.

Personally though, if there's only one thing that I'm going to eat at a US festival or street fair, it is freshly made kettle corn. Not the microwave stuff out of a bag, not the giant, stale bags sold at the local CostCo, but real, honest-to-goodness, kettle popped, burnished and salty-sweet Kettle Corn. There's nothing like it.

I noticed this one intriguing looking popsicle stand.

We didn't get any that day, but the flavors look like they'd be worth seeking out. They are Austin based, but other than that, I can't find out much more on their website. I'll have to keep my eye out for it in the future.

Just before we left, we noticed this snake handler (well, OK, I was so delirious from the heat and distracted by the children that I nearly ran into him. But who's splitting hairs here?)

Greg wanted a picture with him, and Lavella thought that it was a good idea at first, until she noticed how big the snake was up close.

That was the end of that. The poor guy felt so terrible for scaring her, and kept apologizing. Ah well.

So overall, it was pretty fun, but I was quite glad to get back to our air conditioned car and then eat dinner in an air conditioned restaurant. This kind of heat just makes me want to curl up and sleep for a million years. I can only imagine what the summers will be like...