Saturday, July 25, 2015

Krav Maga Chronicles

Krav Maga…I have been a practitioner of this self defense system off and on for the last five years.  Three years ago, I decided to get more serious about it, and a year and half ago, I decided on an impossible dream—to become a Krav Maga instructor.  I had been helping out at a women’s self defense seminar and had an opportunity to really see Krav Maga make a difference in someone’s life—the experience was life altering—for her, and for me.  I was humbled and exhilarated to be a part of it.

KM logo

I had been toying with the idea of becoming an instructor for awhile, but I was afraid I’d be laughed at if I said anything. After all, I wasn’t terribly fit, I was overweight, and I had some emotional hang ups about some of it.  All I knew was that overall, I loved it.  But after that particular women’s self defense seminar---something shifted---I knew I had to become a Krav Maga instructor, or die trying.

I practically RAN to my very hard-nosed instructor and told him what I wanted to do.  I fully expected him to sneer or laugh and tell me I was not instructor material and probably never would be. I was afraid of how he’d react when I told him what I wanted to do. But I did it, anyway.

He didn’t respond immediately---and I couldn’t read his face, but he finally told me if I was serious, I needed to talk with my chief instructor, the owner of the school.  I was surprised I wasn’t shut down, and felt encouraged—but I also wondered if that was Instructor Hard-Nose’s way of letting me down. Maybe he was passing the buck. I decided he didn’t want to be the one to tell me I was not cut out to be an instructor. 

So, I put off talking to my chief instructor for a couple of weeks.  I had to sit with the idea that what I wanted and what I was capable of might not square up.  I had to sit with the idea that I would be told no, or that I would be laughed at.  But the fire for Krav Maga just kept burning and finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to know if my chief instructor thought I could do it. I told him I wanted to be an instructor.

Actually, to be honest, I was a coward and IM’ed him. I figured being rejected via text would hurt less than being told in person.  I didn’t hear from The Chief for a couple of days---but then, his response:

“I knew you would, sooner or later!!! LOL When are you in next? We can chat!”

“Really?” I thought.  I had no idea if this meant “Well, it’s about time, let’s get going on this!” or “That’s cute, but you’re delusional. I think you need professional help to grasp the sad reality that you’ll never cut it.”

The next time I saw the Chief—he handed me a list of all the instructor testing dates in the United States and Spain for the next year.  He told me to look them over, set a date and come talk to him some more.

I was surprised…no, I was shocked.  I stared at the paper for a good ten minutes before I realized this was basically a green light from THE CHIEF INSTRUCTOR to pursue this crazy dream. 

So, I picked a date and we chatted.  Chief asked me about why I wanted to become an instructor, and what committing to training meant. He asked me if my husband was supportive, and how I would balance my responsibilities while adding instructor training to my already busy life.  Chief was encouraging and enthusiastic. He asked if I believed I could do it. I said yes. He said he believed me and that he believed IN me. On my way out, he congratulated me and said, “This experience will absolutely change your life.”

I began training in earnest---and working on technique and endurance.  Over the next few months, I lost 20 pounds and worked my way up to working out 2.5 hours a day five or six times a week.  Having talked with my other instructors, one who had just recently passed her instructor test, I learned I would need to build up the stamina to work for eight hours a day for a solid week, not to mention know HOW to teach the techniques and teach a class.  It felt overwhelming, but exciting.

It was hard to fit in training and studying between homeschooling my five kids and running my household, and holding down a part time job, but it was happening.  The wheels were on and I had awesome support from my instructors, my husband, my friends, and my kids.  I was feeling good and going strong.

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My color coded schedule to keep life and training on track.

And then, of course, adversity struck.  Literally.  It came in the form of a defensive front kick in Krav class one day.  I was knocked onto my back and my head did a little ricochet thing off the floor. It didn’t so much hurt as make me dizzy.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get upright again.  Instructor Hard-Nose ordered me to sit out for the rest of class to recover, but as I was always the slowest, fattest person in class, I felt I had to prove I could get back in the game. I argued with Hard-Nose—I think I even threw my mouth guard at him and insisted I could handle it.  I forced myself to keep going in class. It was ugly and I ended up having to sit out the last few minutes of class because the world kept tilting to one side.  After taking it easy for twenty minutes, I convinced myself I felt okay enough to drive home.  Since my neck hurt, I decided to stop in at my chiropractor’s on the way.

He had barely gotten out the words, “What did you do this time?” when it was clear I needed to go to the ER. 

Long story short, I had a moderate concussion, but here’s the funny thing about concussions---you don’t think really well when you have one, and I was convinced there was a bunch of fuss going on for nothing, despite the neck brace and CT scan.  Hard-Nose texted to check in, unaware of my ER visit.  My husband wouldn’t give me my phone so I could text him back.  Finally, while my husband was out filling out paperwork, I sneaked my phone to tell Hard-Nose I was fine and would be back in class in a few days.

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“I’m invincible!”

The ER doc was very firm in telling me to take it easy, no books, no screens—basically no brain activity for me for at least three days and possibly up to a week or two, and then I would need another assessment.  I was down the first and second day, because the anti-nausea medicine they gave me knocked me out.  But after that, I was up and trying to do everything I normally do---because I have five kids and how do you have your brain do nothing for three days when you have carpools and teaching and work to do?

Of course, I couldn’t really do any of it—at least not for more than an hour or so at a time—and then I’d get blinding headaches, nausea, and dizziness again. Apparently, I was making myself worse. 

Recovery was S.L.O.W.  Every week, I’d think “I’m going back to class this week!” only to find the world spinning after trying to read to the kids or hearing a loud noise.

It was a bad time—and I was horribly depressed.  Concussions are weird things—I would feel better for a few hours, but then walking up the stairs would make me sick. I couldn’t process and filter noises, so everything seemed loud and overwhelming.  I was easily frustrated and had zero patience for anything.  My mind was fuzzy and it was hard to articulate my thoughts.

Mostly, though, I could do mundane things—I could even drive—at least a little--- each day.  I was upset and angry that I was missing Krav class and felt I was losing ground physically and I had been denied clearance to go back to class.  I went anyway, and sat on the sidelines, watching and occasionally heckling my classmates. It was pathetic. I was itching, aching to be back in class.

Hard-Nose took pity on me.  He’d chat with me between drills and once, I was having a particularly good day, so he let me on the mat to help him demonstrate a technique.  It was low impact for me and felt AWESOME to be DOING something again—but Chief happened to walk in and see me on the mat.  He had told me to keep him updated on my recovery and was surprised to see me on the mat.  He asked if I’d gotten clearance. I hadn’t.  He was upset and chewed me out, ordering me off the mat, telling me I wasn’t allowed back on until I had medical clearance.  I don’t know if Hard-Nose got in trouble for allowing me on the mat that night. I hope not.

It took about a month before I got medical clearance to return to full activity, but it felt like an eternity. I was told to start slowly back into my workouts, but tra-la-la, I didn’t listen. I tried to throw myself back into my full workout routine, but quickly discovered that I still needed a lot of rest. I couldn’t manage even one full class without getting a migraine.  I could barely get through warm ups, and I couldn’t take the impact of getting hit. Even hitting the punching bag would sometimes make my head spin.  My instructors kept on me about paying attention to my body and not pushing too hard too quickly.

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Medical clearance! “Return to work!”

Eventually, I quit going to class regularly.  IT was frustrating to feel unable to bounce back, and I was embarrassed by how much ground I’d lost. I missed my target date for my training and test. And then, Hard-Nose got married and and left our school to pursue another career avenue.

Before he left, he tried to talk to me. My class attendance was sporadic and I came with a bad attitude and bad mouth when I showed up.  After a particularly bad night, he cornered me and called me out on both. He added that I was too much of a perfectionist and needed to chill out a little.  He said I was tense and unhappy. I was putting unrealistic pressure on myself.  He wanted me to enjoy Krav and wanted me to get my fire back. He really hammered the perfectionist thing.  I had never considered myself a perfectionist. If anything, I thought I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough!

I was angry and embarrassed and said some antagonizing things because I am a jerk. But the truth was, Hard-Nose was right. And I hated it.  I was even angry that he remained calm and even upbeat while we talked. I think, knowing he was leaving soon, he wanted to end on a good note. He was giving me advice and encouragement, in his tough love kind of way, but I just wanted to be angry. I’m still ashamed of myself about that conversation.

After Hard-Nose left, my attendance remained spotty for awhile. Life got busy and it was easy to have an excuse to not go to class, to not come into the school to train on my own, excuses, excuses, excuses.  And the longer I was away, the easier it was to stay away. Funny how that happens—excuses feed fear and fear feeds excuses.  And while they are busy gorging on each other, getting bigger and meaner and nastier, I felt my health declining and my morale sliding to the floor.

When I WOULD go into class, Chief’s workouts would kick my butt, and not in a good way.  I was so out of shape I was BEHIND square one.  And, the other instructor, a twenty-something woman with the stamina and flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat—well, I just couldn’t keep up with her.  I admire her, and she’s awesome, but I couldn’t help comparing myself with her.  We are totally different—in fact, I think the ONLY things we have in common are that we are both female and we both love Krav. 

When I first began my Krav instructor journey, Chief reminded me more than once not to compare myself with Cirque, because we were completely different in age, experience, stage of life, etc.  Intellectually, I knew that and accepted it, but being in class—man, oh, man---it was hard to accept, but impossible to ignore.  Cirque has been nothing but supportive and awesome with me—my comparisons and hang ups are all in MY head.

I am still, over a year later, not even back up in training to where I was pre-concussion. My new test date feels like it’s looming (November!!!) and I feel so under-prepared. I feel like I’ve backslid terribly and it’s harder to getting back the ground I’ve lost. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m putting unrealistic pressure on myself. Sometimes, I don’t know if I have it in me.  I hear about the training and test from other instructors, I follow some on Facebook, and I think “Who do I think I am to even consider that I can do this?” “What on earth am I thinking?!!!”

Because here’s the other thing.  Krav Maga is violent.  It is about reacting to violence. It is about doing whatever it takes—WHATEVER it takes—to go home safe.  If you are serious about protecting yourself, defending yourself or your loved ones, it is about doing what it takes. And Krav Maga is also about knowing how to deal and muscling through mentally and physically when you do get hurt.

To me, THAT is the scariest part of Krav Maga.  It’s not that I MUST lose more weight to even hope to keep up with the training/test, although I need to do that. It’s not that I MUST really increase my stamina and my speed, although I need to do that, as well. What scares me to death is the thought that I don’t know if I have the guts to stay in the fight and see it through. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, the saying goes. On the flip side, I haven’t yet given up—even though I’ve wanted to, and I’ve contemplated throwing in the towel on this instructor thing many, many times.  I am still training. I’m still in---barely, some days, but I’m still in!

My biggest issue in Krav is staying calm and in control.  Mental toughness. It is easier to succumb to the fear, to the pain.  I’ve done it before.  Even now, I still sometimes freeze up in the face of the high stress and adrenaline dumps that are part of training. This enrages me. I am a mess when things get ugly and I struggle with staying together, or pulling it back together, when I’ve lost control. I HATE this, because I have worked and worked and worked and worked on it.

Embrace the Suck

I’m working on making this my mantra.

If you’re read this far, you’re probably wondering why I stick with Krav Maga, if it produces in me such extreme feelings. It does occasionally get awful for me. Krav brings out the worst, but also the best in me. 

I love Krav Maga because it is so real.  You cannot fake your way through it. You come as you are, and you work with what you’ve got.  There are no short cuts.  It’s the most honest thing I have ever experienced.

Krav Maga was designed to be used by regular people.  It is for everyone. It is adaptable to anyone’s needs and abilities. It is practical, there are no wasted moves. And the more you do it, the better and fitter and better you become.One of my past classmates was confined to a motorized wheelchair—and he was fierce. More than once he pinned my arms with his and nearly ran me over with his chair---he adapted the techniques and used what he had available. It was incredible.

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It is a good workout—sometimes too good.  I used to beat myself up (and still sometimes do) for not being able to keep up in class.  It took many weeks before I could make it through a whole class without needing to take a break…of course, I came from a particularly sedentary background, so someone who is more active than I was would probably get up to speed quicker than I did. But it is awesome to look back on my first days in Krav Maga and see how much progress I’ve made (and how quickly it comes back if I’ve been absent for a bit!)

Krav Maga helped me develop more confidence---I know it sounds really weird that I’m saying that NOW, after writing aabout how insecure I feel about instructor training---but when I started getting comfortable with my technical abilities in Krav, and my ability to pick up and learn new things, I found I got more comfortable with myself in general.  I was getting fit, enduring something tough, and learning new stuff all the time---and those successes bred confidence—not to mention, learning how to survive hard scenarios in class made it easier to look at tough things going on in my regular life and think “I can do this. I can get through this.”

I love the camaraderie of my classmates.  It takes a special kind of crazy to look forward to getting choked, punched, or kicked.  There is an intimacy and a trust that develops between the regulars in the classes—real life self-defense is up close and personal—there’s no way to avoid close contact when someone puts you in a headlock or gets within striking range or pins you to the ground. In order to train effectively, you have to put yourself and others in situations that are as realistic as possible.  We create ugly situations in order to train to get out of ugly situations.  In learning how to handle those situations, trust is critical.  It gets kind of gross sometimes…sweat, blood, someone breathing coffee breath right in your face, sweaty hands or arms around your sweaty neck, groin strikes, swearing, grunts, growls, yells…there’s no delicacy here.  And everyone is a good sport (most of the time!)  We’re all there to learn—and we all take turns taking shots at each other, so what you dish out, you have to be willing to receive! Respect is gained and given pretty quickly!

Krav Buddies

Krav Cronies.

I absolutely LOVE it when we get new people in class---especially women.  In just one class, a woman who comes in uncertain, or feeling foolish, or even scared, usually leaves feeling pumped up and more confident, and having learned life saving techniques.  I love partnering with new class members.  It is fun to see someone go from tentatively hitting a bag, to punching the crap out of it.  It is especially humbling and rewarding to participate in a class when someone fearful or abused, downtrodden and defeated, feels, perhaps for the first time, powerful, safe, and hopeful.  I have been witness to this more than once---it is a sacred, profound experience every time. 

This is why I keep with Krav Maga.  This is why I still nurture the dream of becoming a Krav Maga instructor.  This is what I need to remember when I start thinking I’m insane, that it’s impossible, that I’m too old, too fat, too weak, too slow to succeed. I love sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained. I love seeing hope and strength develop in someone who didn’t have it before. Also, I need to remember that Chief believes in me.  He told me, when he handed me the dates for the instructor tests that he wouldn’t have given them to me if he didn’t believe I could do it.  Ultimately, I know I have to go through the testing alone---I have to stand on my own knowledge, strength, and mental toughness to pass the test---but I will only be able to to that if I utilize all the training resources available to me—and that includes remembering my instructor’s belief in me when I feel weak.  Ultimately, I must believe in myself—I know that---but the support of my instructors, family, and friends is crucial, too.  Chief still thinks I can do it—even as I struggle with training—and have one step forward two steps back kinds of days. If he thinks I can do it, I must be able to do it.  I can do it. I will do it.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Homeschooling Methods: An Overview on a Few

This past month, I spoke at an “Educational Options” night at our local library. It was a great little get together with nine speakers, each taking between 5 and 7 minutes talking about the educational method that has worked for their family. The speakers were followed by half an hour of a “curriculum crawl” where folks displayed their favorite learning tools and people were free to ask questions, look around, and handle curriculum. It was a really inspiring night.

I spoke about All the Wrong Questions and encouraged those considering homeschooling to answer the WHYs of wanting to homeschool before they invested too much into the HOWs.  I also provided an overview list of a few popular homeschooling methods and resources local to the Treasure Valley in Idaho.  There wasn’t time or space to mention ALL the homeschooling/alt school options (I don’t know that I even know ALL that are available!) but wanted to offer what I could—getting into homeschooling can be SO overwhelming, it can be hard to know where to start.

Below is the handout I made available to everyone. I share it here for those looking for a place to start, along with helpful links, as I could find them.

An Overview of some homeschooling ideologies and methods:

Classical: Defined by a three stage approach to learning: Grammar stage (emphasis of memorization of facts), Logic Stage (emphasis on analytical thinking/cause and effect), and Rhetoric Stage (emphasis on expressing oneself clearly and eloquently.)

Books about Classical Education: A Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise and The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of a Classical Education by Leigh Bortins

Websites about Classical Education: www.welltrainedmind.com and www.classicalconversations.com

TJEd: Thomas Jefferson Education, also known as Leadership Education is an educational ideology and methodology that emphasizes learning through classic books in all subjects, family work, family projects, and through parental and mentor examples

Books about TJEd: A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century by Oliver Van DeMille and Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel DeMille

Websites about TJEd: www.tjed.org

Charlotte Mason: This ideology emphasizes respecting children as whole persons and offering a broad education through "living books" (not textbooks), nature study, art, and music appreciation

Books about Charlotte Mason Education: The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte M. Mason, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola

Websites about Charlotte Mason Education: simplycharlottemason.com, amblesideonline.org

Waldorf: This ideology and method was developed in a more traditional school setting and emphasizes delaying academic studies until about age 7, reasoning that young children learn best through imitation and imaginative play. Heavy emphasis on art and developing autonomy and self expression.

Books on Waldorf Education: Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out by Jack Petrash, Waldorf Education: A Family Guide by Pamela F. Fenner

Websites about Waldorf: christophorushomeschool.org

Project Based Homeschooling: This ideology centers on combining personal interests with learning through making, doing, sharing, collaborating, and acquiring real-life skills.

Books about PBH: Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self Directed Learners by Lori Pickert

Websites for PBH: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog

Unschooling: An ideology that advocates learner-chosen activities and personal interests as the primary learning tool. Unschooling is the most misunderstood homeschooling philosophy. Originally "unschooling" meant "not associated with public/traditional schools" and encompassed all the previously mentioned ideologies and methods. The definition/perception of unschooling has evolved to indicate child-led learning and to imply (falsely) no rigorous academic study. "Radical unschooling" is a term that typically denotes a complete rejection of formal academic curriculum, in favor of real life, hands-on experiences to learn life skills.

Books on Unschooling: Learning All the Time by John Holt, How Children Learn by John Holt, How Children Fail by John Holt, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education by Clark Aldrich

Websites about Unschooling: http://sandradodd.com/unschooling  and http://unschoolers.com/

Local Online Public/Private, and part time schools and co-operatives:

Online Charter/Public: Public school curriculum online and facilitated through your local school district--different programs are available IDEA, IDVA, Connections Academy, Harmony Educational Services

Websites for Online Charter/Public schools: http://www.idahoidea.org/about-us, http://www.connectionsacademy.com/idaho-online-school/home.aspx, K12 Idaho 

Online Private School/Distance Learning: Liahona Academy (LDS Education) www.liahonaeducation.com

Part Time Private Schools and co-ops: Local part time private schools in the Treasure Valley are available to help supplement your child's learning at home. A few options are: Aaron Academy: www.theaaronacademy.com, Glen J. Kimber Academy: google kimber.academy, Vineyard Christian Home School Co-op: www.vineyardboise.org (families must sign a statement of faith to enroll--in which case,Vineyard may not be appropriate for Catholic, LDS, and non-Christian students.) Treasure Valley Commonwealth (A TJEd co-op that meets once a week): www.treasurevalleytjed.blogspot.com,

This list is not exhaustive---Google is your friend!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

All the Wrong Questions

All the Wrong Questions

As I’ve mentioned before, we are huge Lemony Snicket fans—and today, Calvin brought this lovely volume home from the library.  I’m laughing already and I haven’t even read the thing yet.

But this post is not about delightfully droll books, dripping with sardonic humor.

This is a post about being asked about homeschooling.  I have had a few people approach me lately wanting to know what curriculum to use and how expensive it is to homeschool.  These aren’t BAD questions, but for folks just beginning to look into homeschooling, these are the WRONG questions to start with.  Of course, they don’t know that, and it’s no fun being told you’re asking the wrong questions, but these really aren’t the best first questions to ask when considering homeschooling.

It’s natural enough to jump from “I think I want to homeschool my child” to “What curriculum should I use? And “How much does homeschooling cost?” but the answers to these questions depend entirely on a different set of questions, which are much more important, but may not be easy to answer without a lot of thought about them.

I remember when I first began researching homeschooling—I asked every homeschool parent I could find “What curriculum do you use?” and “How much does it cost?” and “How do you schedule your class time?” and EVERYONE answered “It depends.” I would press for details and I usually came away with some variation of “Well, we did this one thing, and it worked for awhile, and then we did this other thing, but now we do something else.”

Okay….frustrating!

Turns out, I was asking the wrong questions—but I only learned that after I fumbled through a few months of homeschooling, myself.  THEN, I knew why I felt I was only getting non-answers.  The homeschoolers weren’t trying to be vague—they were being honest.  Their mindset and mine were very, very different—and I was asking them questions from a public school mindset—when homeschooling is altogether a different one. I was coming from a public school lifestyle.  Their answers were coming from a completely different lifestyle. And, regardless of method or schedule or curriculum, homeschooling IS a lifestyle.  I needed a paradigm shift.

So---what are the right questions for the homeschool-curious to ask?

Before you ask ANYONE else about homeschooling—you need to ask yourself:

Why am I considering homeschooling?

How do I define a good education?

What do I value?

What do I want my children to value?

What experiences knowledge do I want my children to have?

What am I willing to do or sacrifice to make that happen?

These are not simple questions—in fact, they can be kind of loaded—but they are absolutely necessary to answer for yourself.  Once you’ve done that (and it takes some time---it’s a good idea to write it all down on paper---and write everything that comes to mind, no matter how silly or wacky your answers may sound) it’s a good idea to ask your spouse these questions—Have your partner answer the questions for him/herself—then compare your answers. 

You may find you have similar definitions, values, and ideas (this is, of course, ideal) but you may find that you have wildly disparate answers to these questions.  If that’s the case, before you can seriously consider ANY form of homeschooling, you need to work together to get on the same page—to have the same ideals and goals for your kids’ education.

These are not “sexy” questions—they require some real thought and effort—and might even require some deep discussions with your partner.  If you have older kids you are thinking about homeschooling, it might be wise to ask them these questions and find out what their answers are.

When you have a pretty solid idea of what you, your spouse, and possibly your children think—you’re almost ready to ask about curriculum, cost, and schedules, but not quite—you need to do a bit of research first—your answers to the above questions will lead you to the KIND of homeschooling that will fit your family’s needs best.

More on that next time!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Never stop learning, even on “spring break!”

My three oldest kids sing with Cantus Youth Choirs, a phenomenal community choir that serves the Treasure Valley of Idaho, and this year, they got to go on tour to Anaheim, California. The Cantus tours are always a blast and this one was no exception.  Julio tagged along with the kids on a couple of them before and since this year’s tour included Disneyland, we decided we’d ALL tag along and turn it into a family vacation.

We packed up and left a few days ahead of the Cantus tour buses, so we could squeeze in some extra time in California and see some friends and family.  We threw the kids in the mini-van and drove to Anaheim in a single day. Yes, we are insane.

Prior to the trip, Julio had told me about a TED talk by Navi Radjou about the concept of jugaad—a Hindi word for creative problem solving within extreme limitations, and how the corporate world in the West can benefit from this principle of doing more and creative things with less. After watching the talk myself, I really wanted to buy Mr. Radjou’s book.  It arrived the day before we left, so I brought it along and read it aloud to Julio as we went.  It’s funny how when something is on your mind, you find it everywhere. 

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As we were reading this book, we had a couple of opportunities to come up with some jugaad of our own—first, the sun was glaring down into the car, making Neenie very hot and uncomfortable. We used a blanket pinched between the car head rests (and later, a different blanket pinched between the windows and doors) to make a sunshade. Jugaad!

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Then, the rubber gasket for the windshield came loose on the driver’s side and started flapping.  Julio tried first to fix it with electrical tape, but the tape was no match for flying down the freeway.  Since we were in the middle of nowhere, Julio had to roll down the window and hold the windshield in place until we could find somewhere to stop and fix the stupid thing.  Since it was coming onto evening and we were only halfway to California, Julio stopped in at a truck stop and bought some yellow duct tape. It held!  Jugaad!

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Our first couple of days in California involved a trip to the beach and a day at Knott’s Berry Farm.  The kids and I had never been and Julio had told us it was full of roller coasters, but I wondered how much fun it would be for the little kids because they were too small for most of the rides.  I was kind of grumpy about going at first, because I was afraid I’d get stuck having to sit with the little ones all the time while Julio and the big kids got to go have fun on all the crazy rides. I’m so immature and selfish, I know. But, of course, Julio had already scouted the place and made sure we did a lot of swapping kid duties—and it turns out KBF has some fun rides for the smaller set, too. So everyone got their roller coaster fix!

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We expected the place to be packed, as it is “spring break season” but the crowds were thin—enabling us to go on our favorite roller coasters again and again.

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This was Neenie’s first time at the beach.

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The kids had a ton of fun splashing around and playing in the sand. We brought most of the sand from this beach home in our clothes.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…*

I love my little punks. They have just (re)discovered the literary drollery of Lemony Snicket’s  A Series of Unfortunate Events. Calvin has even taken to reading it aloud to his siblings in his best Tim Curry impersonation. This makes story time SO much more interesting. The series follows the misadventures of the kind, pleasant looking, wealthy, but terribly unlucky Baudelaire orphans and their evil uncle, Count Olaf, who tries to steal their fortune. It’s absurd and witty, and in my case, beverage-snorting funny.

It always amazes me how quickly and deeply we are affected by what we read—thanks to ASoUE, we have acquired a corn snake, which we named Montgomery Montgomery, after the Baudelaire’s Uncle Monty in “The Reptile Room.”

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Monty is the most low maintenance critter in our entire household and for this, I love him. He eats once a week. Granted, he eats a mouse that has to be defrosted and warmed to room temperature, then wiggled in front of him so he knows it’s feeding time, but that’s why I had children—to make them do such repugnant tasks.

Thanks also to “The Reptile Room,” there has been a resurgence of Dinovember. I admit, during the ACTUAL Dinovember, I had more fun than the kids staging the dinosaurs’ escapades, but now the kids are into it---and well---the dinos are getting into some pretty shady dealings:

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These are not the sauropods you’re looking for.

 

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The dinos’ illegal casino was shut down within hours of opening.

 

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The dinos attempt to rehabilitate through education.

 

After a few days of dinosaur mayhem, we decided to make a trip to the Boise Aquarium, to see—more reptiles? There are a surprising number of them at the aquarium.

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We also managed to crash a preschool field trip---inadvertently disrupting a puppet show about fish and sharks while oohing and ahhing over real, live fish and sharks.  Oops. 

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After a couple hours at the aquarium, I was starting to crave sushi, but the kids vetoed that idea, so we settled on burgers and fries at Red Robin, which is probably my favorite place to not have to cook. Because BOTTOMLESS FRIES.

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Our server wanted to know what was up with the Viking helmet. When Blythe explained that it was Thursday, the poor guy just didn’t seem to understand. Everyone knows that Thursdays are Viking Days. Unless it’s Wednesday, which is also Viking Day. As is every other Saturday, unless Blythe forgets, in which case, both Sunday and Monday are Viking Days.

A highlight of each homeschooling week is the library’s “Fun with Science” class. I have no idea what goes on during these events—because when I go to the library, everything around me drops away except for the shelves and shelves and shelves of glorious books. The kids must fend for themselves. Fortunately, they are cute and have mastered that inquisitive, hopeful puppy dog look that librarians can’t resist, no matter how obnoxious the kids are.  LIFE SKILLZ.

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The kids tell me the theme for the class was “All About Air.” They made bubble sculptures.

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Has anyone figured out how to make square bubbles? Winking smile

Who knew that Lemony Snicket books could inspire such a week of learning and fun?

*The title for this post was inspired by the following quote from ASoUE Book 2: The Reptile Room:

“It is now necessary for me to use the rather hackneyed phrase "meanwhile, back at the ranch." The word "hackneyed" here means "used by so many writers that by the time Lemony Snicket uses it, it is a tiresome cliche." "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" is a phrase used to link what is going on in one part of the story to what is going on in another part of the story, and it has nothing to do with cows or horses or with any people who work in rural areas where ranches are, or even with ranch dressing, which is creamy and put on salads.”

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Taking a Gypsy Term

One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling in Idaho is the utter freedom we have to do whatever we want. This semester, we are taking a free-wheeling, figuring things out as we go along approach.

I call this semester a “gypsy term” because we’re kind of just going where the road takes us, picking things up and learning along the way.  It’s a much looser approach than we’ve previously taken. It’s a little scary--but thrilling, too.

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I told my older kids, who were extremely sad to leave the wonderful co-op we’ve been privileged to attend for the last three years, that they could think of think of this semester as a “study abroad” experience.  My one and only goal is to be out in the world---in the community—and experience all it has to offer.

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Here’s what we did this past week:

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my husband and I had seen the movie Selma over the weekend.  We were blown away by the story and the testament of the struggle of black Americans during the Civil Rights movement. The movie is intense. It is gritty and heartbreaking and hopeful and TRUE. We took our older two kids to see it on Monday in the hope that it would spark some talk about that era in American history and its parallels to the attitudes today about civil rights and race issues.  We are typically very guarded in the movies and TV we let the kids watch—and the tension and violence in the film was a strain on our kids—they are still processing what they saw—but it is a beautiful thing to hear them ask questions, to want to delve deeper into Doctor King’s life and times, and to reflect on issues of race, equality, and social change.

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We had learned over the weekend that President Obama would be in Boise to speak at BSU in the middle of the week. His speech would be open to the public, but tickets would be required to gain entry to the speaking venue. So, after the movie, we gathered the entire family and went to BSU to stand in line for tickets to the President’s speech.  We had seen news reports that morning that BSU faculty and students had first rights to the free tickets and that the line to get tickets had been spotty—not surprising in a solid red state, I suppose, so we figured the same would hold true for the general ticket line.  We were wrong.  We stood in line for about an hour, and the line wrapped halfway around the BSU campus.

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I was surprised that there were so many people in line for tickets, given the vitriolic responses online to the announcement that President Obama would be in town.  Though standing in line was not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, it was enlightening to see the different people who came. People of all political persuasions were in line—and despite whatever people’s personal opinions and beliefs were, everyone was amiable.

Tuesday, we were feeling kind of under the weather—the flu had been going around our family and while we were mostly recovered by Sunday, the afternoon out in the cold, waiting in line for tickets to the President’s speech put us under.  We needed a recovery day and stayed home. We declared it “Documentary Day” and spent the day cruising Netflix for educational shows. (I am part of a Homeschooling with Netflix group on Facebook—which is totally awesome—what a great resource to supplement learning!) We watched everything from Leap Frog Math Adventures to the Moon to Inside the Lego Corporation to Pets with Jobs. There were some others we watched, but I think I dozed off.

Wednesday, Julio and the big kids got up early and headed out to stand in line for the President’s speech.  We learned that the venue could seat 2500 but that over 5000 tickets had been distributed---it would be standing room only for at least half the ticket holders!  The little kids and I went to our new informal homeschool co-op---a once weekly, laid-back affair.  We learned about St. Francis of Assisi.

I had intended to meet up with Julio and the big kids and attend the President’s speech, but it didn’t work out—and it’s probably a good thing.  Julio and the big kids stood in line from 10 AM until noon, and then once inside the venue, found standing room only, right next to where the local press cameras were set up.  The speech wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:00.  No matter how patriotic we are, I knew the little kids wouldn’t have been able to manage doing NOTHING for that long.  Bags and purses weren’t allowed through security, so bringing entertainment and snacks for the little kids would have been impossible.

So, with that last minute change in plan, I took the kids shopping.  Blythe just started Cub Scouts and I was recruited to be a Cub Scout leader and we both needed uniforms. (I have been hounded by the local Cub Master to get myself a uniform and after a long and valiant battle, finally succumbed and bought the ugly thing---but I refuse to wear it. Tra la la la!) and Gloria needed fabric for a pillow case she was going to make that afternoon with her Activity Days group.

While I was busy buying pink heart-strewn fabric and hideous scouting uniforms, Calvin was being interviewed by the local news about being present for President Obama’s speech.

Calvin on TV

The rest of the week shaped up pretty well—we plundered the library, as we do every week. We have long since given up on tote bags to pack the books home and now bring in the heavy artillery. Yes, that is rolling luggage you see there.

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We also stumbled into a weekly science class held at the library, of which I had been previously unaware. The kids made dry ice cannons. Score!  Calvin now wants to make a larger one out of a garbage can.

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We finished out our week with LOTS of reading.

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I also thought it would be fun to have each kid start an art journal—as a way to explore different art media. We spent a good chunk of an afternoon painting.

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Finally, the kids started learning how to program computers this week. We saw a deal on a learning website for a single board computer kit and snatched one up.  It arrived this week and Calvin and Gloria have spent some time with it—learning how to make computer animations and create games.  Calvin is currently creating a math game to help the little kids with their math facts.  I don’t know who is more excited about it—Calvin or Julio!

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This is my first real foray into unstructured “unschooling” and I have to admit, I am terribly nervous about it.  I decided to write this post to document what all we did this week not to toot my horn, but more than anything to see if we really were accomplishing anything.  I’ve always had this idea that “unschooling” meant “not educating” but after going through the projects and pictures and experiences we’ve had this past week (and over the last month) I’d say we’re learning a LOT! Hmmm…I could get used to this Gypsy Term thing…