Sunday, January 31, 2010

It snowed!

Well, it's white anyway. I think it's mostly sleet, but it looks pretty.

My parents came into town for a visit and arrived on Friday, just ahead of the impending "TRIPLE THREAT!!" We picked up K from school (which she still loves by the way) and headed over to Wal-Mart to join the masses picking up essentials for the "TRIPLE THREAT!!" Essentials like redbox movies and red velvet cake mix and cinnamon rolls and that new bar thing that goes in the dryer in lieu of dryer sheets (it seems to work well). We stood in a really long line and headed home to hunker down for a couple of days because of the "TRIPLE THREAT!!".

I think the "TRIPLE THREAT!!" referred to snow, sleet, and freezing rain. I could be wrong.

Friday afternoon, the frozen stuff started falling from the sky. By the time I took Cindy Jae out for her last walk, the world was glittery white and the dog was so. very. excited. It took me awhile to make her remember that we were out there for one specific reason and could she please get it over with so I could go to bed?

Saturday morning, the white was even thicker. The girls bundled up and they went out with Grandma to play in the icy snow. I grabbed the good camera and the dog and we went out to get some pictures.

I started playing with the color and lighting effects on the photos.

I love this shot of Grandma.

L was a difficult subject as she didn't stand still long enough to get a good shot.

I got an excellent shot of K.

We didn't stay out too long, choosing instead to spend most of our day like this.

Games, snacks, movies, and reading all with the comfort of warm blankets and hot tea. That's my idea of how to spend a snow day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lessons from Public School

Many people have asked how K's transition to public school has been going.

My answer? Very well indeed.

K is fitting in nicely with her new class. She's learning to play the recorder and draw cartoon people. She's found one really good friend, done some group projects, and impressed her teacher. She makes her own lunch and lays out her clothes the night before. She sets her own alarm and gets herself up and ready in the morning. She takes pride in her work and in her class t-shirt that she made sure she had in time for this week's class picture.

There are three important lessons she's learned since starting public school that are very important and more difficult to learn any other way.

1. Not everyone looks the same. Homeschooling tends to be a bit...homogeneous. There are a few "families of color" in the groups and activities we did, but they were the exception. After her first day, K said that she didn't realize there were so many kids "with dark skin". In her school, only about 17% of the kids are white. School has been a cultural experience for her, but she hasn't made any color distinctions since that first eye-opening day. It's a good thing for her.

2. You can't make exceptions when you're dealing with large groups, even when it isn't fair. K's school is big on "AR" (Advanced Reading). It's a program where books are rated according to reading level and you can take short tests about them for credit. The AR tests are taken on the computer and it took K over a week to get her login from the district so she could go online and take the tests. This was a problem because each student has a goal to get so many points from AR tests and the students who didn't reach their goal had "silent lunch" and "silent recess" until they reached their goal (Never fear, they still met the NC requirement for daily physical activity by walking as they read). Even though K couldn't take any AR tests because she had no login, she still got silent lunch and recess. It wasn't fair, but it was easier to make every student abide by the rule regardless of circumstances. It didn't hurt her; it motivated her, so that when she did get a login, she broke a school record by meeting her goal (and then some) in 24 hours.

3. A few bad apples can ruin things for everyone. Even if just a couple of kids are misbehaving, the whole class will lose privileges. You can be doing everything right. You can be the best, the brightest, the smartest, the quietest, the most obedient, the most helpful. And you can still get stuck writing a paper about why your class lost so many points in music class because the others wouldn't stop talking. All you can do is take responsibility for your own behavior. And feel smugly superior that at least it wasn't *you* who made the whole class get in trouble :-)

All three are important life lessons.

Life isn't fair and the sooner you learn that, the easier your life will be. You have to learn to function in groups and you have to learn that you don't always have control over what happens even if it affects you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chai Tea Kludge

I am not a coffee drinker.

Growing up next door to my British great-aunt hooked me on hot tea for life. (Growing up in the South hooked me on iced tea, too, but that's another story.)

When Starbucks came around, I wasn't too terribly interested until I found myself in one with a friend and ordered the chai tea latte. I swore they must have put some illegal drugs in that thing because I *craved* it in the following days. Since then it's a favorite thing to go with a book or a friend and a Scrabble board and find a comfy chair and wile the evening away with my two favorite things - chai tea latte and words.

There are other places that serve even better chai tea than Starbucks - Panera, the cafe at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, TX, and Caravan Coffee in Belmont, NC. The chai tea at Caravan Coffee is *amazing*. It's creamy, sweet, and just the right spices. I'd be in serious trouble if it were not inconveniently far away.

Of course, frequenting coffee bars for chai tea lattes adds up. Fast. So when my mom introduced me to a mix I could make at home that tasted fantastic, I was thrilled! And so was my pocketbook!

So I made it and drank it. And shared the recipe. And enjoyed it. And loved it.

But when the weather turned cold and I made up a new batch, I realized something. My allergies started acting up. I was getting more hives. And the only thing I had changed was the chai tea mix. So I checked the ingredients and there didn't seem to be anything "bad" in it. I did a little more online research and discovered that "instant iced tea mix" is not tea at all. And one of the main ingredients that is not listed on the label is caramel color.

I am terribly allergic to caramel color.

It made me sad.

But then I came up with a crazy idea. What if I made the Spiced Chai Mix without the tea? Then I could just brew some plain old black tea and add the mix to that. Today I tried it. And the result was perfect.

So here's the recipe for my chai mix. You can put in the "instant tea" or you can leave it out and have real tea.

Spiced Chai Mix

3 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
*1 cup unsweetened instant tea
3/4 cup vanilla powdered nondairy creamer
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

In a food processor, combine all dry ingredients; cover and process until powdery. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 6 months.

To serve: Dissolve 3 tbsp. of mix in 3/4 cup boiling water; stir well. Top with whipped cream if desired.

*You can leave out the instant tea, then prepare as directed. To serve, brew mug of black tea, then add 3 tbsp of mix; stir well. Top with whipped cream as desired.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What I did today

I set my alarm. For 6. Not that it mattered. Between the hives and the stress (which no doubt exacerbated the hives), I don't think I slept at all.

At 6:15, I dug myself out of my warm cocoon and got dressed. With make-up, even.

At 6:30, I climbed the stairs and flipped on the light in K's room seconds before her alarm went off. She had laid her clothes out the night before.

At 6:50, K and I grabbed some breakfast to go, bundled into our coats, then jumped in the car. We drove across the neighborhood... the local elementary school.

Yep. After 4 and a half years at home, K is off to school.

She wanted to go. She's been asking, she was getting a bit bored here at home, it's difficult to tailor our experiences to two different ages and interests, I was having to focus so much time on K's schoolwork that L was doing too much on her own, having everyone here all day every day was overwhelming, I'm just too lazy to deal with everything, and it just seemed like the right time.

Don't get me wrong. I don't feel at all like I "failed" at homeschooling. I hesitated to say anything earlier because I was afraid how other people would react. There are the die-hard homeschoolers who will be horrified that I would send my precious angel into that cesspool of sin known as public school. There are the die-hard anti-homeschoolers who will say, "I told you so!" I've sat and listened as group of women told one overwhelmed young mother that if she would just send her children to public school like "normal people", all her problems would vanish. Neither of those stances are accurate or good for anyone.

Homeschooling is simply one more educational option. K and L have both done very well with homeschool. I am constantly being told how smart they are and what great kids they are. It's obviously worked well for them. I just think it's time to let K have the school experience she wants and I don't think public school will ruin her.

For now, K is off to school and L is continuing her program here at home. L is very smart, but she has some immaturity issues with focus and self-control that would make it a very difficult situation in a classroom. I'm hoping that not having to constantly compete with her sister for attention will help her to mature a little bit.

Our first day went very well. K is enrolled and had a full day of reading, writing, and more reading. L got started with her school early and was done long before lunch and I got to give her some extra attention. The dog went to the vet, the laundry is almost done, I finished putting together all of K's grades so I could take her report cards back to the school, tracked down a few things that needed to be done - it's amazing what you can accomplish when you get up and start your day early.