Monday, January 14, 2013

Just Let Go and Go

Maybe I was a regular at all the token Smithsonian museums because my parents hosted a lot of visiting family from Mexico.  I can recall countless trips downtown with a car full of cousins all jabbering in Spanish, cameras in hand and my mom ready with the gigantic video recorder so familiar to us 80s babies.  I remember my excitement (and eventual boredom) touring the National Gallery of Art, Air and Space, American and Natural History museums over and over.  A new wave of cousins, a new visit to the museums.  Cousins visited again, and we would go again.  The cherry blossoms and paddle boating at the Tidal Basin, home to the Jefferson Memorial, and kite festivals in the Spring were all a part of life.  My favorite, Fourth of July, was always spent picnicking a hop, skip and a jump away from the Vietnam Memorial.  Back then, alcohol was allowed, and if it wasn't, people sure brought it anyway.

And one thing that I have noticed as I've gotten older is that a lot of kids I grew up with didn't frequent downtown a whole lot, if at all.  I'm not really sure why.  We were only about 20 minutes away, and there was the Metro line if you didn't want to deal with parking.  Even in high school when I would mention hanging out in Georgetown, faces would wrinkle, and I remember a lot of kids not wanting to drive into "the city".  Suburban Maryland isn't exactly sparsely populated.  I never got it.

Granted, my family did have businesses downtown so I spent a lot of time hanging out there with them, "helping" in the kitchen and serving tables as best as a 5-year-old can.  I would sit down with customers, chat them up and help myself to their tortilla chips.  I was a big hit.  So even though I have never lived in the District proper, it's always felt like home to me.

A conversation with my friend Cheryl, a homeschooling mom of seven(!!!), prompted my trip down memory lane over the weekend.  She just returned to Florida from a road trip to DC with her family.  They went everywhere and loved it.   I remember going everywhere and loving, and still do, but something about "homeschooling" has had me in a box, thinking that if we do go to a museum, I'll need worksheets to supplement Isabella's experience.   And when we get home, she should be required to draw or write something about our trip, right?

Cheryl's answer:  Oh no!  Don't take the fun out of it for her!

Sounds ridiculous, but I was shocked at her answer.  And relieved.  Very relieved.  She explained that part of helping Isabella develop a love for learning was to not make it a chore for her.

"Just go," Cheryl said.  "Isabella is eight?  I'd say you can go twice a week.  Have her just wander and enjoy them.  Don't suck the fun out of it for her.  Get to where they feel like home to her."

Oops.  Did I mention that time I took her to the Natural History museum and made her sit and draw a picture of the nomads?  It was indeed miserable.  

Fast-forward to Saturday, after my very helpful talk with Cheryl, when we had to be out early to drop James off downtown so he could join a friend and other church members play basketball with children in a juvenile correction facility.  It was too early to visit the American History Museum, so I had the best idea ever!  We went instead to the Newseum, the museum of news (catchy, huh?) and it was awesome!  There was no pressure I was putting on myself to have Isabella learn something about everything, or even something about something.  We just enjoyed strolling through.  It is by far one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had with the girls at a museum.

I was so proud of myself, I didn't even start sobbing uncontrollably when I saw the remnants of the Twin Tower's broadcast signal and all the September 12 headlines plastered on the wall.  I was such a big girl!  And it was so nice to see Izzy just strolling through.  She wasn't as interested or fascinated by Gutenberg's printing press, which was a bummer, but I didn't talk her ear off about how it was one of the most important inventions ever!  I only went on ever so slightly about how expensive books were because it was so laborious to copy them before the printing press was invented, which is why only the really rich people had fancy libraries in their homes.  That was it.  Then I shut up.

This week we have the International Spy Museum and Library of Congress planned.  Not our first time visiting either, but this time it'll be with a whole new set of eyes.  While planning all the places we'll visit the remainder of the year, Isabella gave me a huge hug and said, "You're the best mom EVER!"

I'm starting to think so, too.  

Broadcast signal from one of the Twin Towers.

September 12, 2011 headlines.

Posing on the 6th floor terrace.  Amazing views!

Checking out a printing press.

Reading about September 11.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Little Shortcut

Plum Organics and Ella's Kitchen baby food packets.
Even though Paloma has passed the packaged baby food stage, I started buying these again because I realized they are a great way to add a variety of organic fruits and vegetables to my diet.  Any mom with a child under the age of 6 will immediately recognize the popular organic snack purees pictured above.  And while I like the variety Plum Organics offers, Ella's Kitchen is by far my favorite for two reasons.  First, they have "100% organic" stamped right on the front.  Second, they don't add water.  (Third, they're British and I love the Brits, especially the cast of Downton Abbey and anything Agatha Christie or Masterpiece Theater.  But I digress.)  They are available in most grocery store's baby aisle.

They are all gluten free (at least all the one's I've inspected,) and super convenient to throw in my oatmeal or in my purse as a snack.  Though they aren't a very filling snack, when coupled with a handful of almonds and walnuts they hold me over until I can have a proper meal.  I mean, how or when else could I work organic purple carrots into my diet?

Two days ago I emptied one into the blender when prepping the girl's smoothies (while they weren't looking of course, and I've been able to sneak ground flaxseed in them on a regular basis as well) without any complaints or suspicion. *insert evil laugh here*  Ella's Kitchen has recipes available on their site as well.

I wish I had thought to pack these babies in my bag during college.  What a great snack!  Way better than the energy bars that are loaded with sugar and contain milk protein.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Library Tuesday

We don't really have "library Tuesdays".  I'm not that organized, but I sure wish I was.  We try to make it there once a week.  A perk: it's only a little over a mile away on foot!

Yesterday after Paloma took a very decent nap (three hours!!!) we decided to walk over for some fresh air and books.  One of my favorite parts of living where we do is the trail behind our complex.  We just cross the street and embark on a child-friendly walk, run, bicycle ride, etc.  I don't have to worry about cars whizzing by, just the cyclists (and believe me, they can be dangerous, especially coming around those hairpin turns!).

Isabella rollerbladed and Paloma tried to keep up.

 Paloma photobombed Izzy's picture.
We decided we needed a cupcake after the walk.

Isabella enjoyed a chocolate vanilla with heart sprinkles, and Paloma chose a vanilla on vanilla with sprinkles.

Then Paloma noticed the camera.  Cheese!

Then Paloma got cold and continued to eat just the sprinkles around the edge.

By the time the girls finished looking over books and checked them out, the sun had set.  We hurried home and popped a pizza in the oven.  Isabella was over-tired from the Monday hike and broke into nonsensical hysterics at 8pm.  My very sweet husband put the girls to bed.  Some CSI Miami and it was lights out by 10pm.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Small Victories

Though it sounds totally backwards, we have almost totally abandoned a homeschooling curriculum for a few months so I can gain some perspective, pace myself and learn more about Isabella.

This homeschooling venture has not been easy, but in ways I didn't expect. I did the research and knew from everything I read that this year would be the most difficult.  Most parents who quit do so after two to four months, but at least our homeschool challenges would be ones I felt were worth pushing through, not ones like, how can I get Izzy to get ready faster in the mornings so we're not running to a bus stop every day. I knew I couldn't look at other homeschool families and compare our progress or approach because one of the major advantages to this is that you can mold it to whichever way works best for you, your child and family.   These have been my major challenges over the last few months:

  • I didn't realize how little time I need to spend actually "schooling" her  before moving on to something else. In short, we have a lot of free time and it has been a struggle navigating what portions of that free time I am responsible for keeping her entertained; she should be reading; playing outside or socializing with other little people, all while trying to keep Paloma on schedule with naps and myself with errands, laundry, eating, etc.

  • Homeschooling has shown me what a control freak I am when driven by fear of failure. (Isabella, you will sit down and enjoy this book because it is a classic and you have to know the classics because if you don't you'll be uneducated and never succeed in life and I will have totally failed as your educator, so sit down and quit wiggling and listen! Very enjoyable for her, indeed.)

  • It has been very difficult for us to break our brains from seeing and approaching school from the traditional classroom method (e.g., sit down, open a book, lecture, do a workbook exercise, rinse, lather, repeat.)

  • Learning how to adapt teaching to the way Isabella learns. She is very wiggly. I went to Catholic schools all my pre-college life, where wiggling was not appreciated. Structure, structure, structure, sit still, don't ask questions about the Bible I can't answer.

  • Learning that it is my job to expose her to different disciplines right now. Mastery of a subject comes later. Right now I have to help her develop a love of learning. In doing that, there is no way she will not learn along the way.
All the above require patience, perseverance and most of all, pacing. Lightbulb moments don't happen every day. Copy work is copy work. Maybe it's because life has always been so go-go-go for me that it is very strange to just live life with the girls. It's hard for me to look at the bigger picture confident that copying sentences from classics will train her brain to recognize proper grammar. It's just baby steps and keeping a steady pace. I have 10 years to equip her with the tools she needs to succeed in life, not just in a box room, in a box building, learning from a boxed curriculum. And please understand, I am not knocking traditional schools. We decided to homeschool for so, so many different reasons. This is just what works for our family. 

When we started school at home I realized Izzy was mostly guessing in math, but her grades at school had never reflected it, so we had to start the year with a first grade curriculum to ensure she had a proper foundation.   Since we have been taking a breather from "school", I've had Izzy count her allowance (we pay her $5 a week if she completes all her weekly chores) to keep her math skills sharp.  Yesterday I mixed up the way I payed her so she could practice her skip counting.  When she finished counting, she looked up at me wide-eyed and said, "I did it!! This is the first time I've counted money like that!!"

It wasn't anything extraordinary like, wow I memorized all my times tables today!  But it was a big step for her that happened on a regular, nothing special Monday morning.  There was no worksheet or test she aced.  Later she dictated thank you notes to me she would copy and mail to those who sent her Christmas gifts.  After Paloma napped we went on a hike.  The air was crisp, the sun was out and Paloma wasn't too whiny.  It was a plain old day with one small victory.  I will take it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

In 2013, I'm Back

What better way to start the new year than blogging at midnight because J came home late from an after-work dinner and woke me from slumber (though he probably did me a small favor since I fell asleep on my side trying to put Paloma to bed, again, because I wanted to make sure she saw me "sleeping" so she would then fall asleep, and my fake sleep turned into real sleep and I never readjusted my position and now my neck hurts).  Now, after moving to our bed, tossing, turning, reading British tabloids, raiding Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook status updates, I quit trying to talk myself into sleep, got up and raided the pantry for the chocolate and brownies I hid from Paloma and am currently stuffing face.

Thank you, Pinterest .
I love blogging and have been discouraged every time I think about being more consistent because I'm so good at being inconsistent.  That said, it's finally starting to sink into this wee brain of mine that life is a process.  Life is life.  Everyday isn't full of a great revelation or huge stride.  I won't be totally organized or find the perfect routine for Izzy's schooling all at once, but God knows our hearts and intentions, and every baby step, every effort counts toward the bigger goal.

Also, I love having a corner of the interwebs to write, read it back to myself and think, I'm hilarious (crazy, sane, fabulous, totally weird, etcetera).  It's sort of my sanity.  I do journal, or used to, but it hurts my hand to write so much since there's always so much going in my brain once I sit still enough to think, and also my Macbook is fried and in it is the expensive (to me) journaling software I now can't access because my operating system is now so outdated that I can't even sync it to my iPad app when I do get my computer to temporarily funtion.

Speaking of, I don't know when I fell so behind on technology, but when I went into the Mac store last week to look into buying a desktop for our home and heard the nice lady talking about the Cloud and Snow Leopard and lions in mountains, and all this other stuff I thought, I am sooooo stuck in 2008. When we get our desktop, I may have to register for one of those classes intended for Baby Boomers new to the touch screen world.  We're just to a point where we can't even sync our i-technologies to this computer because it's now too outdated as well, but at least it works!

Okay, wow that went on a little longer than expected, so back to the new year.  We finally chose a Bible verse for the year, before the new year!  Hooray!
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. -1Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV
The New King James Version reads "glorify God with your bodies", which I like more.  The point is, this year we're going to treat our bodies better, feed our bodies better, and ultimately (hopefully,) glorify God better.  So our key word is "glorify".  Does what we do, how we spend our money, treat others, treat ourselves, glorify God?  That's our family verse for the year.  I'm excited.

Next, I set a few personal goals for myself. In no particular order they are:
  1. Quit shopping online so darn much.  I found it's a coping mechanism for me, to avoid dealing with immediate issues at hand.  I also want to travel and this is a serious barrier to that dream.
  2. Quit all alcohol consumption at home.  It does me no good.  For starters, I begin my day behind on water.  Second, its turned into another coping mechanism.  Raising kids is hard work, but I chose it and I need to deal with it and live life more responsibly.  Relying on an Italian red and not Christ when I'm overwhelmed is toxic.  I look forward to adult beverages while on a date and/or out with friends! 
  3. Get stronger.  Develop muscle and stamina.  It's not about being skinny, it's about being strong.
  4. Pace myself more.  In everything.
  5. Get to know my daughters more.  Life moves at a blindingly fast pace, and even though I homeschool, it's easy to lose perspective and remember what life is about.  I want our daughters to remember the fun and the memories, not a stressed out mom who was always barking out orders.
  6. Surrender more.  It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that God is interested in and cares about the mundane details of our lives, but He does.  He wants us to ackowledge it and give it to him so we can move forward.  A lot of times I get all control freak, bossy and moody because I don't feel like I'm in control of something, be it a situation, an emotion, you name it.  Fear dresses up in many ways and  I get ugly when I'm subconsciously driven by it, especially a fear of failure.   
Well so much for starting small, right?  Even writing that down was a little scary, but you have to start somewhere.  I can't not start because I'm afraid I'll fail, again.  And I probably will, but that is okay, because I am totally conquering No. 4 this year!

Happy New Year :)