Friday, February 25, 2011

SET with new games

SET GameI recently needed to spend a few more bucks to qualify for free shipping on an Amazon order (well, I guess I didn't technically need to, but it would be silly to pay $5 for shipping when if I spent another few bucks, shipping would be free, and I could get something else I could surely use.) So, I added SET to our order. SET is an award winning card game that sounds simple enough, but proved to really get us thinking. It's sort of a matching game, but there's more to it than simple shapes, colors or patterns.

You start with 12 cards and have to find a "set" of three that is either all the same, or all different in the four categories of shape, color, pattern, and number. The thing is, there are countless variations on how to make that happen. A "set" might be all the same color and all the same number, but all different patterns and shapes. Each category has to be all the same, or all different though. If it's all different in every other way, but two of the three cards have the same shape, then it's not a set.

We've spent a good portion of this cold, rainy afternoon in front of a cozy fire bending our brains over making SETs. We haven't yet used the penalty violation for calling out false "sets," which is probably a good thing, as we've all excitedly called out dozens of times, only to realize one thing out of the four was wrong. I'm sure that as soon as husband joins in the game, the actual scoring will start, cause that's just how he plays.

The game is definitely a winner in our house for thinking skills and addictiveness. It's easy enough to understand for a 6 year old to play, but challenging enough to keep bigger kids and grown ups interested as well. We play a lotta games at my house, and the same old things on the game shelf can get old. I'm glad we added this to our collection of low tech family fun.

What are your favorite family games?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Traumatic School Lunch Memories- Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott's writing book, Bird By Bird, is an oldie, but a goody, that I just recently discovered. A friend who always points me in the direction of good reads, recommended it years ago. I've been feeling a little fragmented and stagnant, and in general like I've been neglecting my writing. So, when I came across the book at a thrift store, I grabbed it. I have been reading sections of off and on for a month.

Anne's writing is raw and honest, which I knew from Traveling Mercies, the story of her unlikely path to finding faith, and Operating Instructions, the tell all story of her unexpected pregnancy, and the brutal, early days of motherhood. Anne isn't for those who are squeamish or easily offended because she just tells it like it is, and it isn't always pretty. My jaw dropped at least a couple of times while reading her life stories.

In Bird By Bird, Anne talks about her own life as a writer, and tries to encourage others in getting past the road blocks and obstacles to writing, and just getting busy with the pen and paper (or laptop as the case is more likely to be these days.) Anne also teaches adult writing classes, and gives a few assignments that she also gives to her writing students. One exercise that she feels everyone can benefit from, and easily accomplish is writing about school lunches. Everyone, at least in America, must have some memories of school lunches.

Well, aside from the poor, unsocialized, homeschooled children like mine, who never went to school, and therefore are completely going to miss out on this assignment. They'll be OK though. They are creative thinkers. I'm sure they could write about how their mother put ground flax seed in their birthday cake or used a napkin to soak up all the grease on their pepperoni pizza before she let them eat it. There's plenty of weird lunch material they could draw from.
Thermos Scooby Doo Mystery Lunch Kit
As for me, when I started thinking about school lunches, I immediately had the most unpleasant flashback. Imagine being 8 years old, and one of the only non-rich kids at your private school. There is no cafeteria- everyone brings their lunch. As the other kids open their Twinkies, and bologna on Wonder white bread, I open my super cool Scooby Do lunchbox wondering what my step dad had packed for me on this day.

For reference, my step dad at the time was a bit of an odd fellow, who would seem normal and even semi nice at times, and just plain crazy, illogical and mean at others. In hindsight, he probably had post traumatic stress disorder from his stint in Vietnam, but as a kid, the only thing I knew was that he was OK in a good mood, but you didn't want to make him mad.
He would sometimes give us canned Spaghetios every night for dinner for weeks straight (OK, again, in hindsight, maybe it was only like 5 days, but it felt like weeks.) At first we thought "Yay, cool, Spaghettios!" (I know, I had very bad taste in food at the time, but I was a kid) But after the third day, we were like "Ugh, Spaghettios again?" He responded to our complaints with a pretty scary temper, so we kept them quiet.

In the case of my school lunch memory though- there was at least actual spaghetti involved, not Spaghettios. Now, I like spaghetti, but what he did with it on this occasion still causes me distress to think about. The spaghetti was sandwiched between 2 slices of white bread. It gets worse. He had also decided to add frozen peas and carrots in the mix. Yes, I had a cold spaghetti and pea sandwich on white bread.
Well, of course I didn't eat it. I tried to hide it as quickly as possible before anyone saw the atrocity and called attention to it. But you know how kids are always wanting to see what everybody else has and trade lunch stuff. Someone saw. The secret was out. I think I must have subconsciously blocked out what followed, but we all know how mean kids can be, and that was some pretty easy teasing material right there.

What could he have possibly been thinking? A cold spaghetti and peas sandwich? Why on earth would he do that? Did he actually think it was just a handy way to get a complete meal, including veggies, or was  he trying to cause me humiliation and grief? Of course I took to making my own sandwiches at that point, just to be sure. Who knows, maybe that was his point- to get his step kids to be more self sufficient. I'll never know since my mother and he divorced, and I haven't seem him in over 20 years.

Still, the memory of that sandwich is something I'll never forget. I don't think anyone ever asked me to trade lunches with them at that school again. A few years later, we moved a thousand miles away, and I went to a new school- one where no one knew about my cold spaghetti and peas sandwich- one where I could trade my lunches without the fear of that story coming to haunt me.

Anyone else have any school lunch memories- traumatic or otherwise?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

OK, I guess I'm not "that bad" of a sport!

Well, last week I was lamenting the fact that I may have turned just slightly into a bad sports mom. I was a tad embarrassed by my enthusiastic hollering, and concerned that I had crossed the line into crazy sports fan. It's not like I was painting my face or waving a big foam #1, but still, I felt I could lighten up. So, I worked really hard to make sure I stayed positive for the game today. I took it easy on the caffeine, only shouted encouraging things, and didn't get upset when the refs missed call or made mystery calls. It really helped that the kids on the other team didn't seem to have any obnoxious behavior going on. There was a bit of fouling on both sides, but it seemed like the kids were just really getting into the game, not like they were being malicious.

The parents however, were another story. Let me just start by saying my goodness people, it's a stinking kids game! You might want to relax a little. I know I've been enthusiastic, but some of these people were awful. I made the mistake of sitting in front of a family that had some of the most negative and unpleasant people I've had the displeasure of sitting near. They ranged in age from a teenager, to a couple of parents, and an older fellow who I'm guessing was Grandpa. They had bad sportsmanship going on at every age. From the minute the game started, they started in. I am pretty sure they complained about every single call that was made the entire game. Even if the call was a foul in their teams favor, they complained that it wasn't the right kind of foul. They called the refs (who are just teenagers themselves) a whole bunch of names, then they started in on the coaching strategies, and in between they went as far as to verbally bash on the children. This is a 5th and 6th grade league, and the Grumble family members were saying things like "Where do they get these kids anyway?" and "Phhht! Where'd they learn to shoot like that?" and "What's the matter with that kid?"

Um, they're 10 and 11 year old kids playing kids basketball- they weren't recruited for a pro team. What the heck were the Grumble's expecting? Grandpa even stood up to yell that someone was an idiot. Eventually, I had to move and sit elsewhere. I just couldn't take it. Even from a few seats away, I could hear the Grumble family saying things like "I could coach better than that!" Well then, by all means feel free to volunteer yourself to work with other people's kids for no absolutely money, and spend a couple hours of practice and another couple hours with them for games each week- go right ahead.

Actually, I'm glad they weren't coaching. The other teams coaches, whom I'll call Big Daddy and Big Daddy #2 were almost as bad. They argued a whole bunch of calls with the refs, and were not exactly gracious losers. The game was a tight one the whole way, but in the last 10 seconds, we were ahead by 2 points. They fouled- I don't know what for, but Big Daddy and Big Daddy # 2 looked like their heads were going to pop. They were all red faced with veins bulging and the whole bit shouting that it was not a foul. We got a free throw, which brought us up another point and we won by 3 points. The Big Daddies were out front as we left the gym complaining that they didn't think they would be allowed to coach next year. Gee, I wonder why?

So, I feel glad to know that, thank Goodness, I am not "that" bad. Whew! The amazing thing was that the kids who were on the Bad Sport team did not seem to have so much of the bad sports thing going on themselves. At least not that I saw. Maybe the adults had taken it so far that the kids were embarrassed by it. Hopefully, they will be able to resist going over to the dark side themselves as they get older.

There's only one more week of this basketball season left, and I am again going to be working hard to be positive, even if negativity is in the air. I'm curious, and could use some tips here do other people maintain a good attitude around negative adults? What do you tell your kids about it?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Confessions of a Bad Sports Mom

There seems to be a fine line between enthusiastic cheering and yelling like a mad woman while at children's sporting events, and I think I may have crossed it. It's rather embarrassing, but feel like I need to do one of those AA style confessions:
"My name is Pamela, and apparently, I'm sort of a bad sport."

I don't know how I got to this place. I never would have considered myself to be a bad sport, or even a competitive person. I kept my kids out of competitive things while they were young, and tried to stress the importance of having fun over winning and all that. In fact, I went as far as to make fun of the "Parent Contract" that our local recreation office has the adults sign before their kids are allowed to play. It states that we won't argue with or yell at refs, coaches, or officials, nor will we yell at the kids or instruct them from the sidelines. "Who does that kind of thing anyway?" I thought. Well, as often happens when I publicly mock things, it comes back to haunt me.

For the record, I was not in the least bit looking forward to my Boy Child's basketball team being in a league that kept score this year. In the 5th and 6th grade league, there really isn't a choice. I guess by that point, they figure that kids can deal with the fact that not everyone wins all the time. After a painful basketball season last year, that would have been even more painful if the scoreboard was being used, I was not so excited about score keeping. Boy Child however, couldn't wait. He thought it would be the greatest thing ever. "Where did this competitive child come from?" I wondered.

Boy Child has always been a bit competitive in board games and when learning new skills, and while he's a sweetie in general, he isn't always the sweetest thing when he wins or loses. I've had to remind him on occasion that when a 10 year old finds such joy in creaming a six year old at foosball, perhaps he's taking it a bit too seriously. Likewise when losses are always accompanied by "the sun was in my eyes" or "I didn't feel good" or some other reason that implied he certainly would have won the opponent otherwise, it's not the best example of sportsmanship. So, I was a little worried about how basketball would go.

Well, this basketball season has actually been going well, on his end anyway. He's on a team of nice kids with nice coaches. The wide range of sizes of the kids in 5th and 6th grade is shocking, and the skill level has quite a wide range as well. They've had about an even number of wins and losses, and have generally played their best. They always seem to be playing fair anyway. The one kid on his team who is probably the most likely to foul isn't mine (thank God) and doesn't seem malicious, but frustrated and at a loss when he does it, and the coach calls him on it.

It doesn't seem that every coach and every team in the league have the same thing going on though. Not only are some of the players giant children that are bigger than I am, but some play what looks like street ball, fouling all over the place. I'm not sure on all the rules, but even if it isn't against them, some behavior is just plain obnoxious. For instance, one player on another team had a strategy where anytime our team had the ball, he would get right in the other players face and just scream really loudly. At first I thought he had some sort of mental disorder, but then I think that was just his way of psyching out the opponent. Having someone screaming "AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH" five inches from your nose certainly looked distracting, and while I did not mention this to the kids, I personally might have been tempted to bounce the ball off his head to encourage him to shut up. In our last game, a boy on the other team who was guarding my son kept a firm hand ON my sons chest, shoulder or back- physically touching him the entire time. It doesn't seem like that would be allowed, but the refs didn't call it. Still, this was a really annoying strategy. I have told my son to steer clear of fouling, but I think glaring at the kid with a really mean looking, mad dog face, and maybe even flaring nostrils and growling would have been OK since the kid didn't respond to words.

So, I started the season with the assumption that I would be a positive cheering parent with a good attitude win or lose, but it's turning out the good attitude isn't so easy as I thought it would be to maintain, especially when you see kids acting rudely, and no one is dealing with it. Our last game also featured about a half dozen major "hand in the face" kind of fouls that didn't get called, while a bunch of really minor and mysterious things the kids didn't understand had the whistles blowing. I didn't argue with the refs, although I could see now how a person would want to. I don't think they were being impartial- I just think they were teens learning to be refs, and probably doing their best, even if they did appear to be blind at times. But what about the other coaches and parents? Why weren't they telling their kids to stop screaming, touching or doing whatever other nasty behavior was occurring? This is the kind of thing that inspires irrational yelling and crazy behavior from otherwise normal parents. We aren't upset about the winning or losing, we're annoyed at the way they are playing the game, and bad sportsmanship, like bad attitudes in general, seems to be contagious.

I guess that's how I found myself doing embarrassing things I never would have imagined such as encouraging these boys to be more aggressive, yelling "Take the ball!! Get it!!!" with a big scowl line in my forehead, and sometimes even muttering jinxes on the other teams children while they are shooting free throws. I do feel slightly bad about the jinxing of children, and realize in hindsight that some of my enthusiastic cheering most likely crossed the line into hollering like a nut job, but I comfort myself by knowing I certainly was not as crazy as the mom who muttered that she was going to make her son run a mile because he missed a shot.

Now, I find myself wondering about the parents who sit quietly on the sidelines, clapping politely though. How do they do it? I used to be one of them too, I think, but I guess I failed at maintaining it in the heat of the game. I find myself thinking that obviously, those calm and quiet parents didn't consume the quantity of coffee I did,but I know that sounds a little like the excuses my Boy Child was making about losing at foosball.

I also find myself thinking that those other parents are probably just nicer people than me. My competitive streak is out of the closet, and it's ugly. I wonder if my son's competitive nature has been a reflection of me all along? But, I know that guilt self blame aren't going to be productive. Still, I don't like the direction my sports mom persona has taken. I think staying off the Crazy Train might be easier than trying to reroute it once I've already boarded. So, I'm planning on reducing my caffeine intake prior to games just in case, as well as taking a moment to meditate, breathe and focus on the mom I actually want to be, and not the crazy one I was becoming.

Wish me luck....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grumpy Mornings

A perpetually excited little terrier jumping up and down next to my head at 5:00 in the morning is not my favorite way to start the day. I try to put a pillow over my head and ignore her, but she is insistent. I know she is trying to tell me she needs to go out, and if I don't listen, I know I will have a mess to clean up later. It's freezing when I get out of bed, and Bouncy Dog decides to run down the hill, chasing a skunk and barking her head off. When I return from rounding her up, sleep is elusive.

By 6:30, I give up on the idea of sleep and decide I'll try to get some work done on the computer before the kids wake up.

By 7:00, I am trying not to curse because my new work laptop is giving me grief again and telling me I am not authorized to do anything. The IT folks at work are not in yet, and even if they were, I know if I get on the phone that no matter how softly I speak, my children will hear me with their bionic ears, and I will be ON for the day. So, I try just getting on my personal laptop to read some emails. Husband is next to me, trying to chat, as if we have not been married for over 15 years, and he has never had the opportunity to notice I am not chatty at this hour.

At least he made me coffee, but before I can enjoy it, I hear rustling, and know that my Boy Child is up. I try not to growl because that isn't a nice way to greet your family in the morning, but it is only 7 stinking 15. I operating on very little sleep. I have been up for over two hours during which I've had about 30 seconds to myself, and I have done absolutely nothing that I would have wanted to do. At least I don't have to rush off anywhere today. That would definitely make things worse. Breakfast and books with my kids I can do, even if I am sleep deprived.

I know there are homeschooling families who get up at the crack of dawn each day and gather around to start on their morning lessons. I've met them, yet I just don't quite understand. One of the top reasons I love homeschooling is the ability to wake when we're ready. Even if we don't actually sleep in very often, I prefer at least to not have to deal with people outside of my immediate family early in the morning.

There are times when we do have to get up early and go places, and we do manage, so it's not like we're incompetent. I just really prefer to make those days a minority, as the scowl lines they leave on my face are hard, if not impossible, to get rid of. On the occasions we do head into town with all the other regular 8:00 to 5:00 folks, I find myself looking around at school kids standing in ice waiting for buses and parents rushing off to work, and wonder what on earth we are all thinking? Most people don't really look that happy and ready to greet the day. They look rushed and tired, and I wonder if wherever we are all heading to is really all that important that we need to be on the road getting in each others way? Sure, a few people look all bright and cheery, but they are the minority, and they just baffle me. I do not usually feel bright nor cheery. I'd much rather be drinking coffee and reading books at home.

I really, really, really appreciate starting the day in a leisurely way without alarms, or a little dog bouncing and then barking for that matter. A little quiet time to myself before I greet the world really goes a long way. I also really, really appreciate when my kids sleep in so I can have this. I'm so much nicer when I'm relaxed. We all are.

I've heard of parents waking kids on weekends solely for the sake of making them get up, and I just don't quite get it. Personally, there is no way on earth I would wake a sleeping, and thereby perfectly happy and quiet child, unless I actually needed to.

I know, I know, I've been told a million times, "The early bird gets the worm." Well, maybe I don't want the worm. I've also been told that I should really be making my kids get up early and go so they can get used to the stress of it. Well, I lived with the stress of it my entire childhood, and a good chunk of my adulthood. I don't really feel any better off for it. I certainly don't like it or look forward to it as an adult. My Girl Child said it nicely when at about 5 years old, an adult gave her the early bird / worm lecture. She responded "Yes, but the night owl gets the big, fat, juicy mouse!"

So, we're accepting that not everyone has to get up early and rush out into the world everyday. For now, we are night owls. We can read, study, play and learn just as well after 8 AM, and can probably deal with the outside world more productively after we have had nice, quiet mornings to ourselves. When and if we have to, we will do the early bird routine, but why go looking for extra struggles when life will surely hand you plenty of them anyway?

I'm curious how many homeschooling families wake their kids just to start "school at home" and how many just let them sleep and wake to learn when ready if they have no other obligations?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sing Song Story of the World

The Story of the World, Activity Book 1: Ancient Times - From the Earliest Nomad to the Last Roman EmperorA few years ago, someone loaned me a copy of the first volume in Susan Wise Bauer's "Story of the World" series. She uses a "story based" approach to introducing historical periods, which I thought was a lot more fun than a boring textbook. I wouldn't exactly say that I have a "classical child" which the subtitle states this is history for, but I do have a couple of story lovers, so they both enjoyed this approach as well.
Our family loves tie in activities too, so I not only kept the borrowed book for ages, I also got the corresponding activity book to go with it. There are about 14 times more activities listed for each chapter than I could possibly imagine doing, but perhaps someone more organized than me might actually accomplish all of them with their kids. I like to have a lot to choose from in any case, so I appreciated the offerings that ranged from maps to coloring to crafts to cooking. We've only done a fraction of the offerings, but have had fun with the ones we've tried.

A while later, while lamenting curriculum purchases that we never finish with a group of other relaxed homeschooling moms like myself (meaning we are relaxed as far as curriculum, not necessarily as far as all other things in life, but anyway...) another friend mentioned that she had the CDs for several volumes in the Story of the World series. She talked up the way her kids could listen in the car or in beds, while she was busy doing something other than reading. Well we love audio books, and I was very excited to hear about this option. I mentioned this, but unfortunately, she did not offer to loan them to me- probably because she heard that I had borrowed the book for so long.

Oh well. I am resourceful, and I was able to find a copy of the second volume on CD "The Middle Ages" in a homeschool lending library (which has very long check out periods and no late fees, both of which work really well for me.) So we snatched it up, and I ordered the activity book for it as well.
The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Second Revised Edition) (Vol. 2) (Story of the World)
Well, we're enjoying the stories in the second volume, but I do have to say that this is one case where both my kids and I preferred my reading the books aloud over listening to them on the CDs. When listening to a story, the experience really comes down to the narrator and whether or not they have your attention. In this case, the narrator sounds like a very nice lady, but has one of those patronizing preschool teacher kind of voices. I feel a little like she's talking down to me the whole time. There's just something about condescending tones, that are also found in many "educational" videos, just don't really do it for me or my kids.

I wonder why people feel the need to use a "you're not smart enough for this so I'm going to really enunciate, smile a lot, and use small words" voice with kids? Personally, I have never been one to talk in those tones or dumb down conversations with my own kids, so they tend to be baffled when other people share educational facts in a very happy sing song voice, at the slowest speed possible.

With videos and CDs, they just roll their eyes, and sometimes start doing impersonations throughout the day. "Mother..." (pause for 10 seconds with scary smile) ..."I'm going to do my chores now. Chores are household jobs that helpful children perform." With real life humans, they are polite enough not to roll their eyes, but I can tell it annoys the heck out of them.

So, again, while we liked the stories, we couldn't quite figure out what my friend was so excited about with the audio versions. I mean, we were amused when at one point in story of Beowulf, the narrator exclaims in a perfect remedial educator voice "Beowulf ripped off their arms, and caused them great harm." While it gave us a good laugh, I still wasn't hooked. Then, I realized that the version I acquired is not the same one she has.

Apparently, I have the singsong version of Story of the World and she has the version that is narrated by Jim Weiss! Now, we've heard fabulous tales told by this fellow, and I am quite sure his version would be much more up my alley. But, probably due to my "long borrowing" history, my friend has still not offered to loan me her CDs, and the lending library isn't purchasing new copies. I'm just glad I borrowed this one instead of purchasing it myself.

We'll still finish the volume, as we do like the stories, but when we move on to the next volumes, I'll be on the look out for the least sing song version possible. If I don't find those, we'll stick with the paper book versions and go back to the tried and true method of my reading aloud. In any case, we are still enjoying the series, the stories, and the activities that go along with them.

I'd love to hear about other fun history sources your family is using. What have you enjoyed....or not enjoyed?