Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Life Class- Home Economics & Economy of the Home

There are some "teachable moments" I'd rather not repeat.   Like the time I thought we were collecting minute tadpoles that turned out to be giant mosquito larvae.  Or when I gave them free rein over the craft cabinet to make gifts while I lesson planned.  Needless to say,  I was cleaning glitter out of every household crevice for week.   

Those all pale in comparison to this past year's unplanned life class: economics of the home/ home economics.   At Thanksgiving, my DH didn't get a turkey from his employer; he was handed a pink slip. Apparently they had mismanaged a number of accounts and needed to sell off equipment to appease their bankers.  Unfortunately, in doing so, they crippled the division my husband ran, as they could no longer bid work competitively if they needed to rent.   Instead of trying to spread the workers into other parts of the company, the owner just canned everyone working in that division: merry 'effin Christmas. 

At first, we didn't panic much.  My DH  had been sought after by other firms frequently over the years, and we naively thought it would only take a few phone calls before he had another position.  We tightened up our holiday spending and had a relatively carefree December.  

In January, however, we quickly realized the unpleasant reality for high salary workers in the construction field, especially those in management positions.  No one would hire until spring.  Unemployment compensation, even at it's highest payout in our state, is roughly 1/3 of our former income.  We still have my income from part-time jobs, but my DH had always been the major provider for our homeschooling family. 

We decided early on that we needed to make some major changes to our lifestyle, and with two teenagers still at home, we needed them to be aware and on board with the choices.    Some would argue that we should have sheltered them from such stresses.   But the reality was our children were mighty materialistic.  Chanticleer had already begun making poor financial choices and had a tainted view of his work value from a few summers of insanely high wages.  HoneyGirl was just beginning her working life, and while she saved half her pay each week for car insurance, she still had no concepts of budgeting over the long term. 

The first goal, then, was to get everyone to recognize the difference between a need and a want.  This concept is apparently easier to grasp for some than others.    Each day I would thank my grandmother for setting such a good example of her New England sensibilities, and I was so glad enough of it rubbed off on me that I could readily wrap myself around her mantra.  

This quote became the basis for our lessons, and has become our new lifestyle, in a way.  It was amazingly eye-opening to look at how carelessly we, and our society, throws our hard-earned dollars away.  We've been conditioned and advertised into death into spending habits that in no way lead to a better quality of life, but rather a treadmill of work to spend.  

Somehow, through the process, we found a lot more fulfillment and appreciation for hard work and simple pleasures.   Framing a family budget takes communication, sacrifice, cooperation, and respect for individual differences. And while I know there are consumer math and home economic programs aplenty, this applied practical learning will have a much longer effect on their lives than all the years of Latin I've forced on them.  

Over the next few posts, I'm going to outline the ways in which we embraced these concepts, turned them into a life class for not just our kids, but our entire family. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Feathering Our Nest

I realized this weekend, as irony would have it, I have begun blogging about homeschooling again at the most impractical time: the few weeks in the summer when I try to put my teaching brain on the back burner and focus on house and home.  Ever since I started running the co-op five years ago, I have found that I need to forcibly take a mental health holiday from the academic portion.  Too soon will I be ankle deep in planning the classes I teach to others there, and organizing HoneyGirl's direction and plans for her senior year.  Bear with me, folks, for the nitty, gritty homeschool posts full of teaching ideas will surely follow.

For now, I'll just blog about our home.  This year has brought some big changes here at Casa Clucker.  My son, Chanticleer, moved out.  After getting his associates degree at the community college, he joined the US Army.  As I write, he is beginning his schooling at the Defense Language School in sunny California, where he will learn Korean to later work as a cryptolinguist.    We're so proud and excited for his opportunity!

Obviously,  taking the young rooster out of the house has changed the vibe here. The energy and noise level has dropped to a comfortable hum.  Life has fallen into a simple rhythm.  I'm still up and in the office early, but I find lots more time for quiet pursuits throughout the day; something I used to have to sneak in before.  Somehow, the continued availability of quiet slots has led me to be immeasurably more productive around the house.  I'm cooking more from scratch, crafting more, reading more, and now, blogging again.  The television is rarely turned on, and I love it.  (I'll blog more about these pursuits later!)

  HoneyGirl is a quiet hen at home, so the changes suited her fine.   When she's not working , she's often writing, gaming, or doing something artistic; she enjoys sleeping in and staying up late like most teenagers would. The joy of summer is that I can let her indulge her fancies on that end. 

Big Papa Clucker has had a lot more time lately, and was a bit bored.   I was more than willing to help him with ideas for his time.  We tackled some much needed projects.  We had two large birch trees we sadly needed to cut down, as HoneyGirl was terribly allergic.  She would touch a branch and break out in red hives, let alone the sinus misery.    I must say, I felt like one bad Mother Clucker wielding a chain saw!  I am happy to report, she is amazingly allergy free since a week after they came down. 

We also had a huge 20 ft x 20 ft sand box in one corner of our yard, where our above ground pool used to sit.  I had dreams of converting it into more garden space, as well as a sitting area to enjoy the sun.   A friend had two pallets of brick pavers he was happy to give away, and the three of us laid a 12 ft by 20 ft patio.  We then had the task of removing the remaining sand, and exchanging it for good topsoil in a few areas of the house that struggled with moisture.   With the soil we removed, we created the angled bed that is now home to my beans, cantaloupe and a number of herbs.

We also created a 2ft by 20 ft bed along the back fence, where we are trying to grow grapes and arctic kiwi for the first time, as well as many potted herbs and flowers.(not shown)   We used some of the downed birch branches and twine to create supports for our beans and cukes, below.  This flows nicely into the covered concrete patio we built a few years back.

We finally have a nice place to sit and enjoy the small pond they built years ago as a Mother's Day gift.  I sit outside many mornings with coffee and my planner, watching the birds bathe in the shallow upper end.  It's a great place to read in the afternoon, and visit with friends in the evenings.  Our yard feels like it has grown up to match our family.

We also brought back our small raised bed garden in the back this year.   Last year's efforts paid off, as the year covered with plastic finally killed the running weeds we could never get a handle on in years past.  Plus, that truck load of mushroom soil did wonderful things to what we uncovered this spring.   I was nervous that the choking weed would return, so we only planted tomatoes, cukes, peppers and squash.  But I am going to add some fall crops next month, as things are looking good.

It's a wonderful feeling to have your hands in the earth.  Something about it suits my Pennsylvania Dutch breeding, as I can de-stress while being productive.   I love that even in the city, it is a happy place full of wildlife: birds, bees, butterflies, rabbits, and frogs.     I'm excited to bring in some of our harvest again,  but I must wait another few weeks.

I'd love to show you pictures of my front gardens, but alas, they have been sitting unfinished.  I weeded them well two weeks ago with full intentions to plant the whole.  When I got poison ivy for the first-time ever.  Miserable, I had no idea what it was until it spread all over my body , working it's way to my eyes.  I want to bake the man who developed prednisone a pie!

What projects have been keeping you all busy this summer?  I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Not-Your-Usual Literature Study

I spent a few hours at the local homeschool convention today, hoping to get some inspiration as to how to handle literature study next year.   Of course, every where I looked I just saw more and more artificially formulated, over-packaged curriculum that made me shudder.  How could any of that inspire my non-bibliophile?   What's out there was about as mentally appetizing as a t.v. dinner.

"Necessity if the mother of invention," I've been told.  So in true Mother Clucker fashion, I am setting about creating something that works for her learning style.   She will be taking a fantastic high school composition class at our co-op next year, and thrived a wonderful class in literary analysis this past year.    We want her to continue exploring works, without adding lots of redundant written work.

I trolled the internet for ideas, and was intrigued by this article, "Writers as Artists, Artists as Writers." 
I love the authenticity possible through this sort of exploration.    HoneyGirl loves to dabble with different media in art.   We tossed the idea around a bit and she is enthusiastic.    She quickly began linking media to book themes.

"Let's treat it like your book club," she wisely suggested.   The literary analysis will be handled through discussion, where I can still ensure she has noted all the major and minor themes, without the burden of written essays.  I might even choose to do some of the art projects with her.

 I questioned her on the types of books and number of books we would select.  Since the only genre she reads for pleasure is sci-fi & fantasy, I limited her to only one selection.   She opted for ten book to read. I suggested we also add in few plays, as we those we can watch, as well as some poetry.    We might even add in some movies with similar themes to occasionally do some compare and contrast exercises.

All that is left is to create the book list.   She's going to work on her own ideas, and I am to bring some to her.  The only book we've chosen together is "The Secret Life of Bees."  

So, I ask you, what books would you recommend for my chick?  She's done tons of classics, so we're not looking solely down that road.  She likes thought provoking books , and we are looking for all genres.  Got a favorite you'd like to recommend?  Please share, and why it's a favorite of yours!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why am I going to a homeschooling convention?

This is the question I've been asking myself all day long.    I've been down this road a dozen times before.
I spend the morning in a mad rush digging through the piles of used curriculum for sale,  making neat piles of those things I might want to add to our plans along the way.   Then, I spend the afternoon trolling through the vendor tables, paging through their offerings as I weigh and measure some more.

In the early years, I suffered from the "Field of Dreams" syndrome:  "if I buy it, they will learn."  Very little of what I bought actually fit into our active learning back then.  Usually,  it graced the shelves for a few years until I took it back to be resold.   Or, when my now graduated son, (dare I call him Chanticleer?) , the avid reader of classics completed a course,  I quickly relegated it to the sale pile knowing that HoneyGirl's learning style would never embrace the same.

But I am years from purchasing much traditional curriculum.  Many of her core classes are taken at our co-op.  I might be able to pick up a few resources on the subjects she will be doing at home (civics, chemistry, literature study), but we have evolved into such active learners that we basically can get along with just a library card and the internet.  

The best truth I can find is I am going to enjoy the experience the last time as I nostalgically watch my dear friend Amanda, a dynamo new homeschooler and mom of five, dig through the piles for her gang. I'm going to carry her bags.   And maybe , for those boston creme donuts they always sell.       

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blogging the Senior Year Journey...

It's been many years since I've been an active member of the Blog-o-sphere.  I was very active for many years when my kids were younger, describing our days filled with learning, it's joys and it's challenges.  I built a strong online support community through these online diaries which always uplifted and, at times, sustained me.

But as my kids entered their teens, blogging became "challenging."  While blogging was very cathartic for me, at times I struggled between  the benefit others could gain from sharing our struggles to violating my kid's privacy when they were acting their worst!  Over time, my blog felt like a superficial shadow of it's former self, as I couldn't find the balance while going through some challenging times.  

A few of my former blogging friends have been discussing how few blogs are deal with homeschooling the high school years.  These is so much we can gleen from each other, and I miss that!  I have been reconsidering the benefit of trying to find a way toward authenticity.  I've grown through those past trials and am at a place where I would love to share our homeschooling journey with others again. 

 Our focus at home has shifted as well, as we spend more time gardening, crafting, preserving.  We've got a "back to basics" vibe going, which is perfect for our little hen house in the suburbs.   I've moved on from being a Mother Crone, and morphed into a Mother Clucker! 

My last chick,  Honey,  will be a senior in high school this year.  She's a fantastic young lady who's helped teach me about perseverance and joy and has a wisdom beyond her years.  But like any other teen, this year is a big scary adventure as she plans her future , and a whole world to consider.    

It's a big, scary adventure for me as well, as I am looking at the end of a decade and a half career homeschooling the kids.  Never would I have anticipated all the places that choice would take me.  I've  learned so much on this journey, enjoyed my kids, and even built a business through homeschooling (more on that later).   As we begin this final year,  I've got a big wide world open for me as well.    

So here we go again!