Washington, DC

Friday morning, we drove from Norfolk to Washington, DC to pick up Vijay from the airport.  The kids and I were all excited to see him; it was great to have family time after a week apart.  We had a great weekend in DC starting with sight seeing and museum hopping. The National Muesum of Art, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, International Spy Museum, the National Archives…It is so easy to focus on what we didn’t see, what we did see was wonderful. It was so inspiring to see these symbols of our Nation.  It was fun for all of us as a family too because it was a first time for us all.

The weekend ended  relaxing with family.  Vijay’s entire immediate family was there, a rarity.   It was great fun to see nieces and nephews and watch all the cousins together.  I love the time that the kids can spend together.  As other’s with families spread across the country know, any time together is a gift and a blessing.  Every moment is one to be cherished.

Virginia Beach

Yesterday we spent the day at the beach. The little girl with us in my cousin’s granddaughter.  It was a fantastic and fun day….waves, sandcastle, little girls as mermaids, picnic food with a little extra sand for flavor and snow cones.  We had an exciting sighting of several dolphins, no pics they were too far out, but we did see one jump out of the water and my little one swears one did a tail walk.  Not much to say, just a lot of snaps to enjoy!

 

Ok, one reflection and looking at the pictures, I have more to say.  You  are not really that surprised, are you?  Our little cousin was an awesome trooper to spend the day with us, as we live cross-country.  She is just a joy to be around.  I was so proud of my kids too, watching all three of them around their cousin.  They were so solicitous of her, the boys carrying her beach bag, holding her hands when she went in the waves.  It was one of those days were as a parent you feel you are doing something right.  I know however it is not all my husband and I.  Much of the credit goes to my kid’s older cousins how always take care of them, play games with them and are just generally wonderful to their younger cousins.  So a big thank you Prashant, Jay, Shruti, Alex, Vishna & Haley.  And so it goes in family, passing it forward to the next generation.

 

 

Colonial Williamsburg

The kids and I were so excited to go to Williamsburg and see a living museum.  It gives such a great sense of what is was like to live at the time of the Revolutionary War.  As an adult, it also made me aware that we are struggling today with some of the same issues that they did then mostly all centering on the role of government vs our individual freedoms.

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Check out Sam with his new musket!

We began with a tour of the Governor’s Palace.  The boys loved the entry hall and were fascinated by all the weaponry.  I was fascinated by the room layouts and how that reflected family life at the time.

We went the the courthouse to view a trial.  India became my sewing apprentice for the next 6 years, wonder what use I can make of that?

 

We spent a little time preparing clay for brickmaking.  Based upon the questioned asked about the composition of the soil at home, I think someone (or two) is planning a little brickmaking at home.

 

It was great to hear the workers give you a perspective of how sociatal norms had change, what the courts were like and the perspective that while the American Revolution brought change, it really strove to preserve much of the British system of government.

The day ended with a viewing of the troops on the green.

Charlottesville and Monticello

Today was a day I was really excited about.  We went to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson home.  We started the day with a drive and said goodbye to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.  Yes, Max looks as if he is sleeping.  I didn’t notice that on the photo until I posted it.  Sorry, Max.  Knowing Max’s sense of humor that might be on purpose.

One last goodbye.

One last goodbye.

We arrived in Charlottesville ready to go to the ACE Biscuit and BBQ, since we had struck out the night before for southern BBQ.  We found this little out of the way gem.  It was closed.  India told me it didn’t open until noon, it was 11:40.  So I said lets take a little drive and see the town.  As we drove away we saw a car pull into the lot.  We viewed Charlottesville with its cute downtown and pastel colored house and returned.  Still closed…the sign on the door said it was their birthday and they were closed!  Boo Hoo and off to the Buttz BBQ.  Bonus, we also got to see a bit of the University of Virgina campus.  I should say, we really got to see the University of Virginia Campus as the traffic was worse than the Loop….slow slow down a two-way twisty road with twice as many pedestrians as cars.  The Buttz BBQ did not disappoint with our brisket and pulled pork.  Max finished his lunch, than ordered a second.  I guess I better get used to this, with Sam soon following in his brother’s footsteps.   Then a surprise stop in a used bookstore and a box of books purchase. (Yes, Honey, more books!)

 

Off to Monticello.  I really cannot begin to say how beautiful and wonderful Monticello is.  It is a tribute to our second presidency.  They have three tours:  The House Tour; Slavery at Monticello; and the grounds and the gardens. Words fail me here and I cannot of course begin to describe Thomas Jefferson.  However, the tours did allow me to understand Thomas Jefferson, the man and politician, as a complex and multifaceted man with great gifts as well as great failings.  The Slavery at Monticello tour was really well done.  I was impressed at how the issue of slavery was addressed in a way that was appropriate for young children, yet still described the horrors of that time in out history.

Finally dinner in Richmond.  To bring the day full circle, decided to end with more BBQ.  Off to the Hogshead Cafe, for a Hog’s Dog.  A hotdog, wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with pulled pork and coleslaw!  Virginia’s response to the Springfield horseshoe!  Unfortunately for us, it was Monday and the Hogshead Cafe was closed.  Off to a local pizza joint instead, to top off a great day!WP_20130826_038

Visiting Virginia

Chicago to Virginia Beach to Washington, DC and back.  I thought I would document our fall trip with photos and commentary…I never seem to document our day-to-day.  Armed with only a camera phone, I decided to move forward and write something each night of our trip.

Day One – Driving

This day was really a long one.    We decided to do the bulk of the driving in one day.  Armed with luggage for 11 days, lunches and snacks for the road we set out.  Not much to say here, except the kids were awesome in the car and Indiana’s rest stops are the pits, but Ohio and Pennsylvania, do a very nice job as rest stops go.

Day 2 – Shenandoah Valley

We packed it up early in the am and drove to Virginia.  The kids were so excited.  I didn’t realize when we left that the kids had never seen mountains.  After all that car time, we felt a little nature would be in order.  Our first stop was supposed to be Luray Caverns, but based on a travel video, Max wanted to see the Skyline Caverns.  We started our afternoon with a tour.

Caves really amaze me.  I think it is so inspiring what nature can create underground.  The kids must like them too, this is our 3rd cave in as many years.

We ended the afternoon by driving Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.  I don’t know if I even have words for how beautiful it is here.  The kids had a blast, hiking, finding salamanders and centipedes.  We all agreed we wish we had more time here and would like to come back and just stay for several days.

A happy accident?

People who know me laugh and poke fun at my self-sufficiency.  I like to make my own bread (although we frequently have bakery bread).  I make cake and cookies from scratch.  I put up jam and other produce from the garden.  Dear hubby is a brewer, so I grow  hops with the veggies in the garden.  He is trying to convince me to plant some grain and harvest it, but I am holding out.

I do not, like some of my friends, sprout my own grains to make flour at home, have beehives or chickens.  Truth be told, I have considered all three of these, but considering the fact that a) I forget to feed the fish and b) I am allergic, the chickens don’t stand a chance.

I do belong to a wonderful coop, where I buy meats and receive a delivery right from the farm of pastured meat.  A couple of months ago, I ordered ground pork and received instead something called pork leaf fat.  Now, I figured it had something to do with lard, but I am a good Italian girl, and this didn’t look like my EVOO.  As a matter of fact it looked kind of gross.

See, what I mean? Not the best looking!

I called the farmer and he told me to keep it frozen and bring it back next month and he would give me a credit.  And that should have been the end of the story.  But, it wasn’t, because I am me and just can’t avoid a good Google search.  Try it, Google “pork leaf fat”.  Apparently, this is the highest grade of pork fat, hard to come by (not for me) and makes prized pie crusts.  Bakers love leaf fat.

Homemade Lard

Here’s the story in my head, avoid this, don’t do it.  Send it back.  You grow your own food, you homeschool three demanding children, all heavily involved in sports, you make the bulk of your food from scratch, you are so tired, you can’t even find time in the evening to sit down and write a little blog post.  Wouldn’t you know, I forgot to return the leaf fat.  You know what that means don’t you?  It is a sign from God that I am meant to make that lard.

So I do.  I followed the instructions on The Spain in Iowa blog (which I love by the way, thank you leaf fat!).  I made this beautiful lard.  And then a beautiful pie.  And this weekend, fried chicken.

The pie by the way, sour cherry, had the best crust I ever made.

Reading…summer and otherwise

Current Reading, Next to the Bed…there are probably a dozen more scattered throughout the house.

It is summer in the suburbs.  Reading is a topic that has come up again and again amongst my friends.  The libraries and bookstores have summer reading programs and give-aways.  Parents are discussing summer reading lists.

I was born a reader.  I love to read, have loved to read since I was a child.  I still remember learning how to read as a preschooler.  I was and am a reading geek.  When I was a child, I transferred to a new school in third grade.  I loved Greek mythology and remember making may way through all the books the school had on mythology.  Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, Harriet the Spy, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Heidi, Rascal, the Encyclopedia.  I remember high school, sitting in the back row, hiding my novel under my algebra book so I could read undisturbed.

I couldn’t wait for my kids to learn to read.  I read to them everyday, we looked at words and pictures.  My kids had huge libraries of books, many of them read so many times the pages were falling out.  My kids read well.  But two years ago they weren’t what I call good readers.  Meaning, they read well, they would read without complaint, but where was the passion?  It killed me.

Non-readers will not understand this.  My husband intellectually understands, he loves to read, but what doctor has time to sit down and read?  I think it bugs him when I get in the reading mode and he is competing with a book.  Especially when I am reading non-fiction and throwing out fascinating tidbits –economic theory, history  or DNA and he just wants my attention after a superlong day at work.  I blame my introvesion and he humors me.

So it killed me that my kids would rather play with their friends, play hockey, look at bugs when they could be doing something really valuable with their time like reading.  Not that I don’t want my kids to do the above activities, I see the value.  But a good book?  What could be better?

I read Jim Trealeas, the Read Aloud Handbook, with abandon.  What is more important than reading aloud to your kids?  I did it already, so he was preaching to the choir.  This is a great book, if you are a parent you need to read this!

Over the past year something happened.  My eldest son first got hooked on a series of books on audiotape.  The Eragon series, written for high schoolers.  At 8 years old, he never could have read it, but the audio books worked.  He would disappear into his room for hours working his way through the series of four books.  He is a really bright kid, with vision issues and his ability to understand and ability to read are several grade levels apart.  Eragon is over now, but he has moved on to Warriors…and is working his way through the series…without the help of audiobooks.  I can be sure he has read for at least an hour before he appears in the morning.  And I have a suspicion he reads after bedtime as well.

My daughter completed a Battle of the Books at the library and went from never finishing a book to reading several in a short time period.  One day she approached me and said in amazement, “Mom, do you know if you talk to the librarians, they can suggest some really good books to read?” No kidding.  It clicked.

My youngest just began to read on his own this year.  He is methodical, working through the Magic Tree House in order. He shows signs from the beginning of being a passionate reader.  He will disappear during the day and read.  He will pick up the book I am reading to him and read, although it is too difficult for him, content to struggle with the hard words, asking for help.  Reading because even though it is a struggle, he has to know what happens.

I am happier now with my readers.  For his ninth birthday, my son asked for book.  Life. Is. Good.

 

 

A Little Time….

When we started homeschooling, I had this vision of our days.  We would be engaged in all kinds of creative activities.  Mom and child, snuggled on the couch reading a story in front of the fire.  Planting in the garden, organically learning about plants instead of the kindergarten curriculum of coloring in pictures of plants.

Since homeschoolers all come with different stripes and spots, it is important for this post to understand we are the flavor that does do “curriculum” particularly in math and English.  The other subjects we cover and this kids are heavily engaged in how that happens, what they would like to learn about.

All three of my kids attended a Montessori preschool and when my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher gave her a kindergarten folder.  Each week, she and the teacher sat down, reviewed her work,  and the teacher made suggestions about what learning goals for the week were in different subject areas.  My daughter was free to complete the work at her own pace, free to complete the work as she saw fit, all at once, in  little pieces, whatever.

This was my fantasy about how we would home school too…who says Math must start at 9:05 and last for exactly 20 minutes.  It seemed to me rigid and limiting.  So off we went, weekly lists for my 7 & 9-year-olds.  The 5-year-old was still in story book time, we read several a day for pleasure so no lists for the little guy.

Did I mention that none of my kids are easily put off, all want what they want now, and all still think the best thing about homeschooling is they get to see me everyday?  I don’t quite understand this last one as I am not the most laid back mom in the world but they are great kids, what can I say?

So back to the weekly schedule.  Little did we know that one of my kids had an LD and vision issue.  As parents who have been in the situation can tell you, planning and organizing is not a strong suit of these kids.  It was taking my child 3 times as long to do his work.  Add to that his difficulty with written output, I ended up typing most of his work while he dictated to me.  All three kids, demanding my time now.  If I was working on math with one, the other two would stand over us and pout until we finished.  Pleasant learning environment?  Not really. Mr. LD would start tapping his pencil or repeating the same sounds over and over as only a little boy can do.  And me, I am an introvert with undiagnosed auditory sensory issues.  It all drove me up a wall!  My mantra was, “I love my children and I will be calm!” over and over.

Finding the solution has been a journey with many changes and revisions.  The current system works pretty well.  The first thing we did was make a schedule…mainly for me.  I looked at the work I required each child to do and marked the subjects that they need me for.  For my now 10 & 8 year olds, there are many subjects where I just need to get them started or to check in on a project they are completing.  My little guy, now 7 needs much more direction so most of his work is with me.

I made a daily chart by time of day and child’s name.  I  plugged in the “Mom” subjects first so there would be no overlap.  I then plugged in the “alone” subjects so they have a time and don’t get forgotten.  The kids know that they can really do the alone subjects whenever they like and in any order.  The “Mom subjects” must be completed at their assigned times and no one may  interrupt.  Well, ok, maybe for blood or fire, but not to ask me if they can have an apple or to tell me that they just finished their work.  We talk a lot about how important it is that they each get their alone time with Mom when there are no interruptions.  The most recent change has been to make sure that little guy gets his time with me first.  He is not yet able to self start like the other two.

The finishing touch is putting the daily schedule in a plastic sheet protector.  Each day as they finish their work, they cross off the subject with a dry erase marker.  The next morning, they wipe it clean and start fresh.  Less waste and work rather than printing the same list out every day.

It took a little time to make it perfect, but it works for us.  Work is done much earlier in the day.  My kids didn’t like the schedule idea first, but when they saw how much more free time they had, all three were sold on the idea.  For both perfectionists and the dwadlers, I think it has helped to know it should take you about 1/2 hour to do this much work.  And for Mom, it has helped me feel that the flow of the day is much more pleasant!

I would love to know what others do to keep their days running smoothly!

A Day at the Bog

Picking Garlic Mustard Plants

The indoor, nothing better than a good book girl had a to have a nature boy for a son.  Somewhere, someone is laughing up there.  I love this boy…and so, armed with a pair of gardening gloves, we spent Sunday afternoon at the Volo Bog.  It was a habitat restoration day and we decided to go and work at the bog.

For those that haven’t been the Volo Bog is an incredible place.  Any bog really.  When I worked at the College of Lake County, I remember a co-worker who used to say that if there was one place everyone should see in Illinois it was the Volo Bog.  Fast forward 10 years, to nature boy.  Still haven’t been to the Volo Bog despite the fact that I have lived my entire life less than an hour away.  Last year on a rare open Sunday we took the kids to the Bog.  It was fantastic and amazing, a truly magical place!

Garlic Mustard

So now we are having a truly wonderful day, pulling Garlic Mustard plants, an invasive species from Europe.  It was easy work for the kids, although overwhelming to say the least when they saw how much there was.  And hopeful too, when they heard the undergrowth of the woods had once been covered with Garlic Mustard and now it was mostly on the fringes.  The kids and I also spent time cutting willow branches to make fencing to protect the returning native species.  Simple things so often bring the most satisfaction!

Cutting Willow Branches

 

All week as we have been driving through the suburbs we have spotted garlic mustard.  I have the strangest desire to stop the car and begin weeding!

It was really wonderful to spend an afternoon in the peace of the woods, spending time looking at moths and watching the joy the kids had releasing turtles into the wetlands around the bog (they were found in the parking lot).

Turtles

All in all, a truly wonderful day.  One that I would like to repeat soon!

 

It’s Greek to Me!

On the roof of the National Hellenic Museum

This past week we had a great time visiting the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown.  This is a new museum, one we will definitely be back to visit.

The first floor is for children and allows the children to imagine life in ancient Greece.  A portion of the exhibit focuses on the Odyssey.  The kids had great fun inside of the Cyclops cave as well as spending time inside the Trojan Horse.

Inside the Trojan Horse

Inside the Trojan Horse

Making Mosaics

In the cyclops cave

 

We had a great class discussing Greek art, seeing examples of the black figure vases we had learned about and the kids were able learn about making mosaics.  As our tour closed, they had an opportunity to make their own mosaics.

The museum just opened in 2011, so the exhibit space is not yet finished.  I found this charming and a great way for the kids and I to see the thought process behind a museum exhibit.   I also liked seeing the history of Greektown in Chicago, the interactive nature of the exhibits allowing both children and adults to learn about the history of the Greek population in Chicago.

Add to the day, lunch in Greektown and a visit to the Sears Tower and we had a perfect day!