Monday, February 02, 2009


January 20th wasn't just Inauguration Day. It was also The Bug's first day of toddler school. She could not wait to get there!

When we got to school she wanted me to carry her from the car to the classroom (which is standard procedure when we drop Sweet Pea off) and whimpered a little when I gave her a hug and a kiss and let her down onto her feet. She clung to my leg for about half a second, then looked around while Slipshod and I were talking to her teacher (Slipshod was home on Inauguration Day so we could watch the footage together, etc., so dropping The Bug off at school was a whole family affair). While we chatted with The Bug's teacher, The Bug wandered into her classroom, and that was it! Then we took Sweet Pea down the hall and chatted with her until her class started (though Slipshod and Sweet Pea both snuck back to The Bug's classroom to peek through the window and check on her before Sweet pea went into her own classroom), and home Slipshod and I went to watch the Inauguration.

When we picked The Bug up from school later she was very happy to see us, of course. Her teacher said she had done wonderfully on her first day, and it was as if she had always been part of the class. On her second day The Bug gave Sweet Pea and I hugs and kisses and walked right into her classroom without looking back. Last week, on her third day of class, The Bug reminded me on the way to the classroom that she would be going in "without you, Mommy!" Just in case I forgot, I guess. ha ha! She missed her fourth day (last Thursday) because she was sick, but she is very much looking forward to going back tomorrow. We're taking snack for her class tomorrow, too, though I don't know how exciting that will be in the toddler room (probably not as exciting as it is for Sweet Pea in her class of older kids). I asked some of the other moms how many children are in there and they said that those kids hardly ever eat the snack, so it'd be fine if I just packed enough food for five kids. ha ha!

You might be wondering how I am enjoying having a couple hours free two days a week. And I am wondering right along with you, because that hasn't really happened yet. Since The Bug's first day of school was Inauguration Day, Slipshod and I sat at home and watched TV, as I said. It was nice to be able to do that, but that was not a normal day around here and I've had these visions of having nearly 2 hours to actually work on cleaning house, preparing dinner, etc. so that I can have more time to play with the kids after school. Maybe next week? On The Bug's second day of school I spent the entire afternoon AT the school. Slipshod came to meet me and we observed in all of the Lower Elementary classrooms to get an idea for what they're like and where we might want to ask to have Sweet Pea placed next year (though they will not necessarily put her where we request, since they have to balance the classes). On The Bug's third day of school I spent a full hour chatting with a mom friend in the parking lot before going home and then spending my remaining 45 minutes of "free time" fighting with Evite to create an invitation for my sister's baby shower (I didn't even get lunch that day!). Then, on her fourth day of school, as I said, she was home sick with me.

So, I am hoping that tomorrow will be my first day of normal time for me while both girls are in school. And I already know that I will spend the entire time cleaning (assuming I get lunch before taking the girls to school; otherwise I'll have to start my time eating), because we're having one of Sweet Pea's friends over on Thursday for a play date. This friend has never been here and we don't even know the family all that well, but the two of them met at the park one day after school and became fast friends instantly. We found out that the other girl goes to the same school and will be moving up to Lower Elementary next year too, so her mom and I are talking about trying to have our girls placed together.

In all the anticipation before the play date I have been cleaning like crazy so that 1) I can regain some sanity, because I abhor living in a clutter pit, and 2) our newish friends don't think we're total slobs. Spurred on by my desire to live in a clean house, the impending play date, and my attempt to break the cleaning down into smaller projects, I have made a beginning of my own, which will be my first to share with you.

Remember my Plant Window O' Clutter?
Well, check it out now!

Can you see the light beams shining down? Can you hear the angels singing? I can every time I stand at the sink and look in front of me. Ahhh, sweet peace. The orchid is even blooming! And now you can actually see the glass pieces I've put on display; I even moved a couple of the pumpkins to the living room and brought in different ones for a change of scenery.

You really should click on the picture to see the glasswork. One of our friends made the visually delicious pumpkins, one of his friends made the glass cupcake on the lower right, I made the little blue teapot on the lower left (out of clay, not glass), and the gloriously bright yellow pitcher with blue handle in the middle top is from Blenko Glass Company (from my childhood home state of West Virginia) which, to my horror, had to shut down production last week.

The drastic improvement of my clean windowsill, the continued impending play date, and my desire to live in a peaceful, clean environment are all keeping me very inspired to keep up the good work. So I need to go now, to clean up the kitchen and hopefully sort through some papers.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Journey

Last weekend I took the opportunity to attend a very enlightening event offered to parents by Sweet Pea's Montessori school, and I'm so glad I went. Apparently a number of Montessori schools around the country are starting to offer this event (that's the only word I can think of to describe it; it's not a class or a seminar) as a way to teach parents more about the way their children are learning in these schools.

The Journey (at least the one offered at our school) is based on a three-part lesson wherein the student is shown whatever it is they'll learn about, told what it is/how it works/etc. and then the student speaks about what s/he has learned.

Our Journey began last Friday night after dinner. We parents who had signed up went to the school and spent most of our 2 hours there silently observing each level of classroom: Toddler (ages 18mos - 3yrs), Primary (ages 3-5yrs), Lower Elementary (ages 6-8yrs), Upper Elementary (ages 9-11) and Middle School (ages 12-14). We were encouraged to get down to what would be eye level for the ages of children who attend school in each room and we were not allowed to touch anything.

At this point I should probably give a quick primer on some ways that Montessori is different than what most of us grew up with in regular schools. Each class level, as you no doubt noted above, includes children of three different ages. Maria Montessori's belief (in *very* short) was that self-directed learning allows children to really internalize what they're interested in because they can choose it themselves and be given time to focus on their interests. Instead of rows of desks, identical learning materials handed out at the teacher's discretion and the students all doing the same thing at the same time, the classrooms here are divided into sections by subject (language, math, art, practical life, etc.), each section containing a number of different "works" pertaining to that subject. The sections of the classrooms are partitioned off by low shelves which contain the works mentioned above, and tables and chairs are here and there around the room. In each room there is also a large rug are where the children can take works to explore/do them. During the childrens' work time they move around the room at will and do whatever works interest them. They can also do them alone or in groups, whichever way the children choose.

The reason for putting different ages together in the same classroom is that children can sometimes be each other's best teachers. Also, if a child who is the oldest in his/her family comes into a class at the youngest age, s/he gets a taste of what it's like to be taught by an older child - something s/he never experiences at home. The same is true for middle and youngest children: As they move through three years in the same classroom, they get to experience learning in different age positions than they're used to occupying at home.

I have seen the inside of Sweet Pea's Primary classroom many times since this is her second year at the school and we have had a number of potlucks in there (on normal school days, though, parents do not enter the room; we drop our kids at the door and that's it - so I always jokingly call Sweet Pea's classroom the "inner sanctum") and I had been in one Toddler room when Sweet Pea's after-school Yoga class met there a couple times last year. But I had never looked very closely at the Toddler room or seen any of the classrooms for the older children, so being able to explore the classrooms without children in them was very interesting. I came home and told Slipshod, "now I feel bad that The Bug isn't in the Toddler program. She would have SO MUCH FUN in there!"

On Saturday the other attending parents and I returned at 8:30am and spent half the day going back through the classrooms, but this time we could talk and touch the works, work together if we wanted, as the children might, and even get a lesson from a teacher if we wished. We were encouraged again to see the classrooms and materials as the children who use the classrooms do, which was pretty funny sometimes in the Toddler and Primary classrooms.

While all the classrooms were exciting to me I had the most interest in seeing and experiencing the Lower Elementary classroom, since that's the level Sweet Pea will be moving up to next year. The first night when we were only observing I came away with the impression that Sweet Pea might actually be scared when school first starts in August, since the space and some of the materials are so different than what she has had in the Primary room last year and this year. However, after doing works in the rooms (the Lower Elementary class area we visited had two adjoining rooms with no door, just an open doorway, between them) I became so excited for her.

There are so many new things there for her to explore, and much of what she will learn will really appeal to her sense of wonder and scientific curiosity. She will be *thrilled* if the room she moves to has a big space poster on the wall. There are books all about space and other wonderful things in the Science area. There is a chore chart and each week each child is responsible for a specific job. Starting in Lower Elementary the children have academic assignments to accomplish each week, and each child makes out her/his own schedule (which they will obviously have help with when they first start) for how s/he will accomplish those tasks in the time given. Sweet Pea's reading ability really does seem to improve each and every day, but I can see how as it continues to improve over the next three years she will be able to learn more and more on her own in the classrooms. And I can totally see how the materials in the Lower Elementary rooms will keep her raptly learning for three years.

The Upper Elementary area has three rooms joined by windowed walls as well as open doorways. These learning spaces, and the materials available to the students, really drew us parents in and I was one of the many people heard afterward saying, "if I had been allowed to learn like this growing up, there is no doubt in my mind that I could have learned math!" They have actual physical objects they can use to learn math. Fractions of circles that you can touch and put together and move around. Sticks and curves that you can stick together with brads to make shapes and angles. Imagine!!

The Middle School has four rooms for the students. We took a short writing lesson in one of them and did a science lab assignment in another.

My experience of The Journey left me wanting to go back to school. From the beginning. I thought regular school worked pretty well for me in most subjects; I got mostly good grades and was able to roll with the style in which I was taught (except, as noted, in math). But given this Montessori type of learning environment I think I could have come out ready to rule the world (with love and compassion and room for others' differing views, even)!

While I do think that Sweet Pea will have a little (hopefully only a little) trouble making the transition to a new classroom, level, and time schedule (she'll be going to school all day for the first time; she's only doing 1/2 day kindergarten this year in the Primary level) next year, I think that once she settles in she will have a fantastic time exploring all the new learning materials available to her.

As for The Bug... What started as a joke between Sweet Pea's current teacher and me ("Since Sweet Pea is leaving me next year," she said, "you're going to need to give me The Bug in my class.") went from being a laughing matter to a thought process and then to a decision to enroll The Bug in the Primary program next year. That was before I took The Journey. Now? Well, yesterday after we dropped Sweet Pea off at her classroom, The Bug and I observed a Toddler class (that's where the parent sits quietly in a chair by the door while the child gets to check out anything and everything in the room for 20 minutes or so). And she'll be starting in that class 2 days per week (for 2 hours) as soon as I get the paperwork filled out. :o)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

New and Interesting

Isn't it funny how, as life moves along, you often discover that you're moving from one phase to the next without really noticing? It's kinda cool, really. The beginnings of very new phases, such as school, are often difficult in one way or another (even if the child isn't upset, the parent may have a hard time with the transition), but then you find new things melting in alongside the old things and morphing the experience into something new.

For example, last year Sweet Pea just went to school. 2 1/2 hours every weekday afternoon, with no extras. I thought that after-school activities sounded like too much and would make our day much more difficult, and possibly make her overtired. I did offer her the chance to go to book club after school one day per week at the tail end of last school year, but she didn't want to go. However, this year, as soon as school started, Sweet Pea started up with the book club. One hour every Thursday after school. No big deal; I'd pick her up from her classroom at the usual time, she and The Bug and I would go sit in the car in the parking lot and have drinks and snacks, then half an hour later The Bug and I would take Sweet Pea back to her classroom and then we'd have an hour at the park together, just the two of us, which was a lot of fun.

One of Sweet Pea's classmates who was also in book club was going to child care during the first two sessions, just for that half hour between the end of school and beginning of book club. She told Sweet Pea about the wonders of child care, and since then Sweet Pea has been all but begging to go to child care! The other classmate's mother and I laugh and shake our heads - we thought we were doing the children such a favor by staying home with them, yet they can't wait to go to child care!

Well, today Sweet Pea started her third session of Book Club, and this time, since it's most often too cold for The Bug and I to go to the park, and also because Sweet Pea's other classmate is in book club again, Slipshod and I consented to let Sweet Pea go to child care for the half hour every Thursday. Sweet Pea's glowing account of child care today began with being allowed to go upstairs for the first time ever at school, and included getting to open a rabbit cage in the room and pet the bunny, and making a jingly bracelet. She can't wait to go back next week! ha ha!

Watching Sweet Pea thoroughly enjoy her first year of school last year and come out of her shell so much more this year, along with the facts that The Bug has never been shy or quiet, really really enjoys being social, and already thinks that she goes to Sweet Pea's school, have all contributed to my feeling now that The Bug is completely ready to start preschool next Fall and will LOVE it there. And there it is again: Even though The Bug hasn't started school yet, we've made a plan, and here we are moving forward again, into yet another stage of our lives. I know that the girls are really enjoying the new things they get to do as they grow. I, too, am enjoying watching them bloom along the way.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Notes To Self


2) Winter? Not the season for play dates in the park.

3) Cats? Put a cork in 'em!
The puddles of puke are appearing more regularly recently, including one delivered hot to the blanket over my legs in the wee hours of this morning. I am hoping that having vacuumed the entire house today will help with the problem. I remember friends saying their cats liked to eat & puke up Christmas tree needles. I have now cleared our house of those for another 11 months.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bear With Me

Hear me out, okay? Here's my thing: Every day I am beyond overwhelmed by my house. Specifically by all the STUFF in it. My brain works better in a physically clean environment. Really. I actually think I'm not the only person who has this particular affliction; I remember in college when lots of people had large assignments due on the same day, that's when there would be a sign up sheet in the dorm for who gets to use the vacuum cleaner next. Seriously. The night before big papers, etc. were due, suddenly EVERYONE had to clean their dorm room.

Anyway - unfortunately I am not an organized person. This fact about myself is beyond frustrating, because I REALLY REALLY WANT to be organized. I HATE having to stay up late or rush around at the last minute to get things done on time. But that is almost always what happens, even when I make lists and plan and do things the night or even the week before.

Part of my problem is that my perfectionism has very strong kung fu; it can, and very often does, stop me in my tracks and keep me from accomplishing anything at all. For instance - there's no way I can clean the house in one day, so why even start? Common sense does not live here. I am most often unable to see large things in parts or break activities into baby steps. Thus, I am staggeringly overwhelmed all at once by EVERYTHING that needs to be done.

In an effort to move myself along, it occurred to me that perhaps if I take pictures of some of the parts of the problems and could see them alone, disembodied from the rest of the house, that would help me focus on just one area at a time. Below are some pictures of a few places in the house where mess collects without me even remembering putting anything there. And while these places bother me, when I am cleaning it seems they are invisible to me, I think because they are relatively out of the way in terms of usage. If the kitchen sink is a mess, I have to clean that up before I can cook, but if the windowsill is a mess, oh well. The windowsill doesn't get in my way so I don't look at it except while I'm washing the dishes. But I'll bet our company sees it when they come over!

Everybody loves a good post-makeover photo comparison, right? I know I do. So as I clean up these messes, I will post the before picture and an after picture of each area lovely and clutter-free. I make no guesses or guarantees as to when each mess will be tackled and conquered, but it'll sure be fun to see results! :o)

Exhibit 1: The Kitchen Windowsill.
I have already removed three dead plants from this plant window, yet there is a fourth that needs to go. See the blue cup on the top shelf? That's where we planted the pumpkin seed that sprouted up out of the downstairs half-bath sink drain. No, really. But we didn't keep watering the poor thing. The red cup on the same shelf is full of seeds from many of the pieces of fruit Sweet Pea has eaten over the past year or so. She intends to plant them all at some point. It'll be great - we'll have apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, tangerines, and on and on and on. There must be a better place to keep those seeds, though. I could go on and on but I won't. What I really want to see in this windowsill is the art glass. There are glass pumpkins and a beautiful yellow glass pitcher with a cobalt blue handle on the top shelf. They look gorgeous in the sun. Can you see them in the picture? The yellow pitcher, yes, but not its handle, and the pumpkins are hidden behind things. And I want the actual tile part of the windowsill, atop the sink's backsplash, to be clutter-free enough to actually wash. Yech.

Exhibit 2: The End of the Kitchen Counter Nearest the Table.
This bit of counter is the first thing you see as you come in the front door, when you look all the way to the back of the house. It really makes a visual difference coming in the front door if this area is dirty or clean. Obviously the fruit bowl and basket full of cloth napkins will stay there, but all the rest of the little odds and ends? Away with them!

Exhibit 3: The Top of the Cabinets on the Upstairs Landing.
This is the weird thing about all these places. I don't remember putting most of this stuff there. It must have accrued over a very long period of time. I can tell that at the time those things were left there I didn't know what to do with most of them. Others were meant to rest there only for a while until I had time to put them away in a different room, and then that never happened. I walk by this area zillions of times per day. It would make me feel so much happier to see it clean!

Beyond just wanting to live in a clean house, I really want to teach my daughters good habits. For that reason I feel a very pressing need to find a useful way to keep up with our house and our lives in general while still having fun with my family, instead of constantly being stressed about cleaning like I am now. The most obvious way is to determine what is clutter to us and what is useful, and remove the clutter from our lives, which I do from time to time by leaving things out for charities on pick-up days and freecycling other stuff. I need to crank up the sorting and get back to giving away what we can and trying to sell what we can.

I am really going to try to start again with Flylady's baby steps (and her encouragement to just do something for 15 minutes and then quit, because getting 15 minutes of work done per day is way better than getting nothing done per day!). While I have made some of her practices part of my everyday life, I have FAR to go to get a system down, and my biggest problem in following her plan is the perfectionism. I want to do one baby step per day, and if I fail at that, I quit. :o( But I am going to try again and again, because if I can just incorporate small new practices into my life, everything and everyone around here will benefit.

How do you keep your life/house sorted? I'd love to hear about it!
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Monday, January 05, 2009

Change is Coming!

I have created a new blog. There is work to be done. Stay tuned. :o)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Butterflies

For January 3rd (I did at least get the pictures off the camera before midnight) I bring you (thanks again to my 4-photo limit) a three-part post of our day. In these entries the information about each photo will be under the photos.

There they are! The monarchs! See the orange cluster in the middle of the picture? Click on the picture to see it larger. Slipshod will have better photos than this, what with his fancy big camera and lenses and whatnot. But this is what I have from my camera, so I hope it'll do. From all the pictures I've seen of the Monarch stopover along the coast I expected multiple trees to be coated with butterflies, but there were only a couple clusters that I could see. It was warm enough for the butterflies to fly, though, so they were flitting about between the trees, which was neat to see.

The girls, who had been excitedly yelling all day about seeing the butterflies, took a couple looks and then found more exciting things to play with on the ground.

At the end of the trail there was a bigger area of boardwalk where we met a family hanging out, letting their girls run off some steam. Sweet Pea and The Bug joined in and made new friends. On our way back up the boardwalk one of the kids (I think it was Sweet Pea) spotted something off to the side. What's all the fuss?

This poor little creature. At first we just thought we were looking at a butterfly that came down to ground level to see what was going on, but as we watched and saw it slowly flapping we realized that it had only its left wing! All four of the girls in the photo above felt such empathy for the crippled butterfly, it was so sweet to hear them saying how sad they were for it and how they wished they could take it home and care for it, etc.
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The Hike

Then we continued up the trail past the butterfly grove for a hike.

There was tree climbing

and uneasy tree sitting (she wanted to get up there, pushed my hand away when I tried to hold her steady, and then started whimpering when I let go and stepped away to take a picture)

and of course, playing in the dirt.
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