Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mommy Dearest?

OMG!  My youngest shared with me tonight that she's frightened of home school!  She never cried before the first day of public school, but tonight she is actually in tears.  Am I as scary as Joan Crawford?  Am I the Mommy Dearest of the 21st Century?

It all started after church today.  We enjoyed a wonderful service followed by a nice family lunch.  However, within ten minutes of being home, the kids were at each other's throats.  Too hot to send them outside, I sent them to their individual rooms instead- a luxury I won't have when we move to Fripp.  I decided too much free time and too much television was eating away at their brains and patience with each other so I went out to the garage and started pulling out planned activities for our first week of school.  I didn't want to start school this early, but all our neighbors going back tomorrow and the lack of structure of summer was making my kids turn into a pack of hungry wolves. A little pretesting and geography activities might be just what they needed.  I spoke to each child individually and told them we would start our school tomorrow and then sat down to make sure I had all my materials ready for our big day. (I'll explain my curriculum in another post, if you're interested.)

I thought this would be the most stress-free school opening we have ever had; until bedtime, when Wyatt came to tell us that Emma was crying.

I should have known something was up when she came to me earlier with her journal and asked me to write down review questions for her to study before she went to sleep.  Stupid, Mommy!  I dismissed her by saying, "Don't be silly!" and "Brush your teeth!"

I went to her room and there she was in her Cinderella nightgown, curled around her teddy, crying.  Crying because she said she knew she would fail my class.  Crying because she thought she would disappoint us.  Crying because we might yell at her if she misspelled a word (we never have and never will.)  And she cried and cried.  And, honestly, I cried, too.  I cried because I had started this whole sabbatical home schooling thing and now I was traumatizing my baby over it.  Who wouldn't cry?  Joan Crawford, probably.

Anyway, we lay together in the dark with her turtle light throwing stars on the ceiling and discussed the exciting new things we would do in our very own school.  I assured her I would not be mad at her if she misspelled a word and that I would always love her no matter what.  She said her prayers and her big brother came in to sleep with her.  I stood in the door and prayed that we were not making a big mistake and messing our kids up for life.  The same prayer I have prayed since our children were born.  They say the only constant in life is that change is inevitable, but some things in a family never change.

Now, I've got to go to sleep.  For better or worse, I've got school tomorrow. (BTW- It starts at the sensible time of 9:30!)

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Problem with Education

My problem with education is... it starts too darn early!  Oscar Wilde said it best: "Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast!"  It is 1:39 AM and I am wide awake so my chances of being brilliant in the morning are slim and none.  Which brings me back to my biggest problem with education in America.  It starts at the crack of dawn!

How are we supposed to be functioning, period, let alone instilling knowledge and wisdom into the minds of tomorrow's leaders at 7:15 in the morning?  Who started this trend?  Who sets the time school starts?  I would like to give them a piece of my mind!  If I were that person, I would see the wisdom in sleeping soundly till 8:30, breakfasting at 9, and ready to begin work by 10 AM.  I would gladly teach until 5 PM and I'm sure do a much better job, too (being awake has that affect on me.)  It seems crazy to end school at 2:15 when most parents are still at work.  Wouldn't it be easier to begin later and end later?

And wouldn't it change the mood at school?  Some kids arrive so angry... no one in their home got enough sleep so everyone yells and the kids arrive ready to jump on the first person who crosses their path.

And what about the all important tests?  Who among us are ready to take long, multiple choice tests at 8 AM?  Not me, but that's what these poor kids have to do!

I believe a simple solution (and practically cost free!) for improving education in America would be to push the start time back 2 hours.  I think student morale and test scores would increase dramatically!  It would definitely cut down on absenteeism and tardiness (and the students would get there on time, too.)

I know this is not my problem this sabbatical year, but as I glanced at the clock while I was laying out breakfast for tomorrow, I was gratefully thinking, "Thank Heavens, I don't have to get up early in the morning!"  My condolences to those of you who do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking a Sabbatical is a LOT of WORK!

Reality struck when we went to the basement.  Four years ago we moved to our current home and placed all the stuff we didn't need at the time (but also couldn't manage to part with) into the basement.  All was perfect in their boxes.  Ever so often, we needed one or two things from each box....  The resulting explosion slowly got harder and harder to ignore, but somehow we managed to until now.  NOW, we are going on sabbatical (who's idea was this again?) and to help finance our travel, we have decided to try to rent out our main home and use the Fripp rental house as our home base.

So potential rental income means cleaning out all our personal belongings.  We are finally cleaning house!

To understand the sad state our house had become, imagine a home with five people living, cooking (a lot) and growing (out of clothes), but no one home long enough to clean.  I, as mother of the brood, have been working essentially two full time jobs for the past two years, writing a book, coaching academic bowl and news team, running kids to and fro and serving as president of our middle school PTA.  For his part, Greg has ran our small business, taught culinary classes, coached baseball, mentored elementary students in math and reading and managed to do most of the cooking for our family.  Cleaning just wasn't in the plans.

But now we have no excuse.  I knew it would be bad, but I didn't dream of the snowball effect.  Clean the basement - Check.  Now the closets - check.  Did the kids really use sharpie on Emma's dresser?  Paint her bedroom furniture - check. (Thank you, Terri and Reclaim Paint!) Boy, the bedroom walls look dirty now!  Walls clean - not yet, but I bought the Magic Erasers for that.  No way am I painting more.

We have moved most of our personal belongings out to the garage ready for a POD or Fripp if the house rents soon.  Of course, the house renting short term and furnished is a long shot, but we have mixed feelings about renting our home period.  As Doris Day used to say, "Que Sera, Sera!" This year is about going with the flow so we'll see if the flow drifts a nice family our way.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

If Insanity Runs in the Family, We're...Blessed?

Today was my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Amazing? Yes.  Heroic?  Maybe.  They have been through good times and the worst times and have driven my sister and me crazy for a big part of that fifty years.  Some people might think to celebrate a "50 Year Survival Competition" is nuts; but then, insanity really does run in our family so celebrate it, we did.

Originally, Mandy and I had planned a big shindig to honor our mom and dad, but sadly, they (meaning my mom) nixed that idea.  Of course, it all began with Mom fervently stating that she wanted, not just a party, but a renewal of their vows complete with her wearing a wedding gown which she was denied in 1961 when the two of them eloped on a hot and steamy night to Dallas, GA.  (I told her I didn't want to hear the details of that fateful evening, but she loves making me uncomfortable.  However, I won't repeat it here... thank me later.)  We were happy to plan a wedding ceremony and were halfway into it when she called saying, "I have changed my mind.  If you girls do anything, I will never forgive you!"  She then goes into detail what exactly she will do to us and herself. Needless to say, we stopped all wedding plans.

Weeks go by and it is now June and we KNOW we must make plans for a party at the least. To do nothing would mean a fate worst than death.  Mother's erratic behavior, fueled by knee pain and the subsequent pain killers, culminated this summer with her leaving a funeral to bring the mourners ice cream sundaes.  She was literally about to bring them into the church when I narrowly stopped her.  My sister and I suggested they would be more enjoyable out on the front porch and luckily, she agreed.  While rocking in a chair and eating a strawberry sundae, my aunt languidly asked, "What are you going to do about your mother?"  I just smiled and continued eating my sundae.  (It was a hot day and the sundae was pretty darn good!)  Driving home, Mandy and I decided a small family get-together would probably be best.

Cut to the week of the anniversary and we still have no plans.  Mother and Dad refused to discuss their anniversary because Mom "may need heart surgery."  All week, they were on pins and needles lamenting that her death was imminent. (The doctor had scheduled knee replacement surgery, but she needed to have her heart checked before the big day.  One test came back irregular and she knew she was dying.)  Five days and two heart tests later, thankfully, all was well.  Her heart was great so on with the show!  When hearing this good news, I said, as calmly and lovingly as possible, "Mom, please tell us what you want to do for your anniversary.  I will make reservations for all of us, if you want; or I will be your chauffeur for the night and take just the two of you wherever you like.  Or we can have a big cook out at mine or Mandy's house.  Whatever you want...Just tell us." She replied, "Can I think about it and call you tomorrow?"

Tomorrow!  Tomorrow was their anniversary!  Sure!  What the hay! We can pull anything together in a few hours time!

So she called the next morning and said she wanted a small family affair at their home, around the pool.  She wanted it catered by their favorite restaurant, Nicola's (Lebanese) Restaurant, near Emory University.  Fine.  So be it.

We ran around for the rest of the day (Thank you, Red Bull!)  Mandy finding golden plates, napkins, wedding cake, a "50" cake topper, balloons, etc.  I got roses, wine and ordered the food.  Hannah and Spencer went to their grandparents' home (the anniversary couple) and worked a miracle around the pool.  (Did I mention my mom is a hoarder?  No?  Well...)  By four-thirty, we, two daughters, were on our way to Atlanta to pick up the food.  [By the way, Nicola greeted us himself as cheerful as always and even sent a special gift box of Mediterranean desserts for the special couple.  I really love Nicola's!]

When we arrived at our parents home, all was ready for the big event.  Mom and Dad had both prepared for the party with an extra glass of wine. Thanks!  We served the appetizers at 6:30, the main course at 7, took pictures of the bride and groom cutting their wedding cake at 7:30 and by 8:30, all was cleaned up and we were on our way home.  Does it sound like we may have rushed the entire affair?  You don't know our parents!  Mother almost fell into the pool twice in the first half hour (remember she has bad knees) and Dad tripped over a chair while heading back to his television at 7:15 (No bad knees, he's just naturally clumsy.)  We made them stay long enough to capture the happy event on film so we could prove we had indeed thrown them a party. (We definitely do not want to do this again!)

Craziness and all, I love my parents.  Believe it or not, they are happy and look forward to the next 50 years together.  If Mark Twain was correct when he said, "Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination," then maybe their craziness has brought them a happiness few people know.  Insanity may be the secret to a long and happy marriage.  Lucky for Greg and me, insanity runs in the family.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Six Flags Field Trip or Just Fun Trip?

Okay, maybe not the most educational field trip I have ever planned, but there are definite lessons to be learned at Six Flags.

First and most successfully drilled into the average learner is patience.  On a hot and humid July day in Georgia, patience is needed greatly.  It wasn't that crowded, but Six Flags seems to want you to wait regardless of the crowd size.  They like to put as few cars running on a ride as possible just to mess with your head.  Maybe the hour long wait for a 62 second ride teaches more than patience.  Maybe it teaches you to just live in the moment.  Talk to people around you.  Read every t-shirt in line.  Eaves drop on others' conversations.  Think about your bodily fluids and how quickly they evaporate in the heat.  How one minute you need to go to the bathroom and the next you don't.  There is a science lesson there somewhere.

Second, a field trip to Six Flags gives lessons in courage.  When you're in line for the Goliath and watching that mammoth coaster run over and over (yes, successfully, but still...), it takes a lot of courage for a twelve and ten year old girl and boy to climb aboard... not to mention how much courage it took for the forty-four and forty-six year old girl and boy to do it, too.  On a side note, I am sad to say that I may have ridden my last major rollercoaster.  The Goliath does not hold back the thrills, but my neck is getting too old to enjoy them any more.  It seems that Six Flags also gives lessons in aging.

Third, kids can learn valuable lessons in delay of gratification or as Mick Jagger would say, "You can't always get what you want!"  We all had free tickets to Six Flags (thanks to two free from Anabel's spring chorus trip and all three kids earning their tickets through the 6 hour reading program), but we explained before we left that we are saving for big travel this fall and do not need to waste money on tacky souvenirs from Six Flags.  This went over fine until we had to take shelter from a major storm for two hours in a gift shop in Lickskillet.  Thankfully, I had told the kids in the car that if anyone asked for a souvenir it would be a chore when they got home.  They probably handled about every item in the shop, but didn't ask for a thing.  I love my kids!

Finally, Six Flags gives lessons in perserverance.  Staying in that long line takes a lot of perserverance.  You learn to stay the course and don't jump to another line.  It may seem like it is moving faster, but usually it isn't.  You learn to keep walking even though you have three blisters because your youngest wants to ride the Dahlonega Mine Train.  (You also learn to travel in packs.  Thank you, Mandy, for taking over with Emma!)  You also learn that it is worth it to wait out the summer thunderstorm so your kids can ride a few more rides before the trip home.

Final tips: plan ahead and have your kids read for free tickets (saves $37.99 per kid), take friends and/or family with you, wear comfortable shoes, bring extra clothes to change into if you plan on riding Thunder River or Splash Water Falls, buy the souvenir drink containers for free refills all day (very important in the summer!) and let go... laugh, listen, have a thrill for a day!  Open yourself to the lessons Six Flags has to teach and maybe even have some fun along the way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Off to Publisher!

Finally!  After over six years developing the curriculum and over one year writing it all down, I am finished.

In my life before sabbatical, I taught gifted children.  I loved the freedom of the curriculum.  Gifted education still allowed teachers to build on their strengths and the students' interests.  Until two years ago, that is.  Two years ago, due to principals' complaints and needy parents, the county required the teachers of the gifted to get together and create county-wide curriculum for all of the gifted pull-out program (grades 1-5). I'm all for standards, but what happened to creativity in education?

When the teachers met, we all brought our favorite units to the table.  I am a very flexible teacher and like teaching new things so I didn't have any set units that I wanted to keep.  The only curriculum I really wanted to keep teaching was my interest projects.  So I brought several student samples of interest projects and presented my original curriculum to all of the teachers of the gifted and the coordinator of the county gifted program.  Their reaction was wonderful!  They loved it and several encouraged me to write it up and try to get it published.

So that spring I started writing and by September, I sent prospectuses to eight different publishers of gifted educational curriculum.  After a couple of months and a couple of kind rejections, I had an offer to publish by Royal Fireworks Press out of New York.  I had never heard of them, but was elated.  Of course, in the back of my mind I wondered how much they were going to charge me to publish my book.  I was ready to sign the contract anyway, but I wanted to wait til I had heard from the other publishers.

Good thing I waited because by February I had a contract from a very well known gifted publisher, The Critical Thinking Company.  And on July 12, I emailed them my final manuscript! (I won't go into the trouble I had converting the 111 pages from Apple's Pages into Microsoft Word.  Yeesh...)  And to think that my book is about teaching technology!  What was I thinking?

If you're interested in knowing what my curriculum is about check out my book's blog.  I don't know if the book will be successful or not, but right now it just feels so good to have finished something I started!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fernbank Field Trip

The dinosaurs give me a shock of pleasure. Yes, I know they aren't real, but seeing their massive bodies looming overhead makes me imagine what life would have been like with these beasts running the earth.  And yes, I know humans and dinosaurs didn't live on earth together, but I can imagine if they had, the sight of the Giganotosaurus above with his mouth openwide would have been my last.

Thankfully, I'm just standing in the middle of the great hall at Fernbank with giant bones over my head, but I love playing these pretend games as I walk with the kids through a museum.  Fernbank Musuem lends itself to many make-believe moments.  We used to visit almost monthly when the kids were little and I wasn't teaching fulltime so it had to be one of our first sabbatical field trips.  I'm pleased to write that it still holds many treasures close to my heart, but has undergone a facelift, too, which made it even more enjoyable.

When they were little, the kids were on my time.  I strolled my captive audience to exhibits I wanted to see and then ended our trip in the children's area.  Traveling with a twelve, ten and eight year old doesn't work that way.  Now it was the parents turn to be drug about willy-nilly.  My girls made a beeline to the traveling exhibit, Mythic Creatures.  Perfect for fans of Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean, Mythic Creatures explores the origins of dragons, unicorns, mermaids and even the Kraken.  The exhibit also traces how these creatures still exist in our culture through art, dance, and (thanks greatly to J.K. Rowling) literature.  We were entralled with the artifacts from around the world, but as a teacher, I appreciated the video explanations to help capture my kids' attention and get them to stop, listen and learn.  As most parents know when visiting a museum with kids, rarely do they ever stop and read the information about a display.  I think that is why the movie, Night at the Museum, was such an interesting idea.  Everyone, young and old, would love to experience a living museum.  If the unicorn and mermaid had come to life on our visit to Fernbank, my girls would have died happy.

Next, we went straight to the new children's area, NatureQuest.  Boy, were we impressed!  When we last visited, the children's area consisted of two separate rooms, one for toddlers to preschoolers and one for school age children.  Kids could move a few things like building blocks and fake worms to feed baby birds and there was a tree to climb inside.  That was basically it.  NatureQuest takes up almost half of the top floor and enables kids of all ages to interact with many of Earth's habitats.  There was the ocean ecosystem where you feel like you are really underwater thanks to lighting effects and a docked boat "floating" above you.  Emma loved the underwater hunt game where she successfully identified several ocean creatures.  Anabel went straight to the tree walk and discoverd a hidden microscope station to explore insects living in the tree.  There was even a secret reading room nearby for older kids to escape the scampering of smaller feet.  Wyatt got lost in the riverbed ecosystem.  (Literally, he couldn't find us after he finished exploring the river creatures' homes.)  Greg and I enjoyed exploring ourselves.  I loved splashing in the creek made of light. Yes!  It moved and splashed as I walked through it!  While Anabel and Wyatt let curiosity lead their ways, Greg and Emma explored the hands-on activities together with Greg explaining the hows and whys each time she asked.  Again, as a teacher, I was impressed with the engaging activities set up in NatureQuest that allow for kids personal discoveries.  The exhibit explores lifecycles of animals, plants and rocks and how all cometogether to create a habitat and separate ecosystems.  Parents need to just relax and let kids take their time.  Hopefully, kids won't "run through" this exhibit.
Another hands-on permanent exhibit, Sensing Nature, was next on the kids' to-do list.  Just across the great hall, they adore playing with everything in this third floor room.  Bubbles, bubble, bubbles!  The kids can't get enough of the giant bubbles where this exhibit begins.  Then, they head straight to all the stations in the room that explore and explain how our mind and senses work together to make sense of what we see, feel, smell, taste, and hear.   All visitors must try each station, but the sound domes are the coolest and still amaze me even though I have done it a hundred times.  It works with one person sitting in one concave cutout on the wall and another person going to the other concave cutout all the way across the room.  Sitting in the seats, you can carry on a conversation with each other!  It is amazing!  There can be tons of people talking and interacting between the two domes, but you can still hear eachother.  The next area of the room is weather.  Our kids love the tornado demonstration and pretending to be a meteorologist live on the air.  The green screen set up is always fun, but we had to wait for some big kids (a.k.a. two dads)to finish their weather broadcast.

We finished our visit with a run through time in Georgia.  "A Walk through Time in Georgia" is a wonderful permanent exhibit, but there are little to no interactive or hands-on displays so my kids tend to run.  They can make it through several million years in under 4 minutes!  Now that's talent!  Each trip, Greg and I try to make them stop and read at least one thing in the exhibit, but this time we were too tired.  I wanted to stop at the opening movie, but it wasn't working.  Greg always tells the kids of how his grandfather donated local crows to the exhibit and has pointed them out to the kids so many times that they spotted them this time before he could.  They were listening after all.

The best thing about Fernbank is that it is always changeing.  Mythic Creatures ends August 14 and the new exhibit Darwin opens September 24.  We'll definitely be back for that.

I recommend becoming members of Fernbank especially if you have children.  Regular admission is $17.50 for adults and $15.50 for kids ages 3-12.  Regular IMAX admission is $13 and $11.  For our family of five one day admission would have been $81.50.  We joined as a family for $95 and can go as often as we like for one year and go to any IMAX movies for $8 each additionally.  Membership also includes admission to Fernbank Science Center with free admission to the planetarium.  We will be going there soon.  The kids and I can learn about the cosmos and Greg can catch up on his sleep.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wyatt's World at SIG

Hi!  Wyatt here...

This summer I went to a three week camp at Emory University.  I took 5 different classes there.

My first period was spying. It was so fun! I learned how to fool a lie detector and went on a big mission all around campus.

My second period was self defense. It was taught by Matthew Schwab and he is a real judo teacher. He has a judo school thingy in Midtown. We learned different throws and pins. It was so cool!

Third period was gaming. It is taught by Mrs. Brooks (a.k.a. My Mom). We did lots of games such as.....
parkour, mancala, chess, quiddich for muggles ( I was the seeker - see pic), scratch game making thing(bet you don't know what that is.) and senet. It was one of my favorite classes.

I caught the snitch in Quidditch for Muggles!
Then, lunch ... lunch lunch lunch. On most days we go to the DUC(Dobbs Univevsity Center) which is a buffet with things like a salad bar, sandwitch making spot, and ice cream!! On Wednesdays, however, we go to Cox Hall where they serve chick fil a, pizza hut, dooley's( buffulo wings and burgers), a mexican place, sushi, smoothies, and krispie kreme donuts.

Well then my fourth period was fencing. It was fun. We learned different moves like an advance, a retreat, a lunge, an advance lunge, a bolestra and other stuff. It was so fun. I got second place in the final tornament and there were 14 year olds! (I'm only 10.)

My 5th class was going to court. We learned stuff about court and we did a trial where the crime was someone in our class kidnapped Justin Bieber!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

After classes we did rec hour. It is basicly recess. We would pick out an activity to do like basketball, field and lounge. Then after that commuters go home. It was really fun.