Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Pacific Northwest

We walked here from the waterfront, but you couldn't
have convinced me to go up to the top for all the
tea in China!  (Or coffee in Seattle!)
I'm always amazed at the scenery when I travel to my husband's sometimes-childhood home in Central Washington State.  Typically, we fly into Seattle and then drive to the place his dad and step-mom currently live.

This is beautiful, downtown Leavonworth.
It's a medium-sized town called Wenatchee in the Columbia River basin.  In doing so, we pass through several distinct climates.  Seattle is uber wet, with the Puget Sound and Lake Washington to draw your attention.  Then you go from Big City to suburb to truly small town as you drive up and out of Western Washington.  The Cascade Mountains are even more wet and rich with evergreen and thick undergrowth, but sparsely populated with cabins and orchards and what we Southerners like to call Gentlemen's Farms.  Once across the mountain pass of your choice, you reach drier climes, until you are practically in the desert, if not for heavy use of irrigation. 

This is the front stoop of my in-laws' bed
and breakfast, and yes, that's an heirloom

We marvel at the unscreened doors, and antique porch furniture.  In the humidity of the South, you would never leave anything of value outdoors, for fear of moss growing up its North side.  Bugs are a given back home, but comparatively innocuous here.  Fall has already come here, in earnest.  There's a chill in the air and a hint of gold in the landscape. 

The famous Pike Street Market.
Whenever I come here, I feel that I stick out like a sore thumb.  There's a certain style among Seattleites, to be sure.  There's no nice way to say this, but it can very difficult to ascertain who is actually homeless and who is, uh, not.  [But I mean that in the nicest possible way!]  I find myself looking at the quality of the backpack and hiking shoe to decide whose Starbucks cup is meant for collecting coinage and who is actually just partaking of the nectar of the gods. 

My boys on a pier along the waterfront in Seattle.
I love that there are bicyclists everywhere.  I love that people are running and walking, in spite of inclement weather.  I love that the color of the water, even right here at the Waterfront, is azure blue and clear as a bell.  I love that the air smells fresh and pollution free.  I love the views of the far-off and not-so-far-off mountains and how, unlike other places I have lived, there isn't a barrier of smog between here and there.  Clearly, they are doing something right.

As my Grandpa "Benton" used to say, "There is more than one way to skin a cat."  They are skinning some mighty fine cats here in Seattle, but I'm glad I have East Tennessee to go home to.
Notice this neon sign near Pike Street Market 
says "Turkish Delight."  I took this photo because Madam
SmallWorld had been experimenting at making the stuff.
I know it reminds her of Edmund. :-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Simplest Ideas are the Best

You can tell I love all this organizational stuff!
I get really into it for like two days each year.
School -- or in our case, homeschool -- has been in session full-time for two weeks now.  ALL of my freshman boy's classes are taught by other people, which means my task is merely to go through all the syllabi* and break all the tasks into edible chunks and then fit them into the context of each day.  This involves my daily flipping through a binder where I dutifully stowed my copy of the class info from the teachers into the protective sleeves, or just three-hole-punched and inserted, using labeled dividers.  I then pen the instructions for the day onto a spiral-bound notebook.  I stole the spiral-bound part from Mrs. Smallworld.  Yes, it is pathetic that an idea so simple and so low-tech had to be stolen!  Yet it works so well, I want to slap myself on the forehead 10 times a day and say "why didn't I think of this before?"  I draw a box beside each "to-do" and he puts a check in it when the individual tasks are complete.  I'm doing this for my 6th grader as well and am flabbergasted at how inspirational he finds an empty box waiting for a check!

No, this is not my family.  We are nowhere near this neat!
The second embarrassingly simple idea that I've adopted this year is twice-daily sit-down FAMILY meals.  Yes, I know that every other homeschooling family on earth probably already did this, but up until two weeks ago, I was very likely to slap something together, summarily drop the King's portion onto his desk in his cave, seat the boys at the counter to eat like cavemen and then crawl into my easy chair to catch CNN during our lunch break.  With the cooler weather -- and let's be honest here, the big pile of junk on my kitchen table that rendered it useless -- it became pleasant to just carry all the food out to the big table on the screen porch.  Well, the first day of school, the King decided he could take a few moments out to sit with us. He works from home and is here most days.  One thing led to another, and we decided to quiz one boy on his Spanish vocabulary and another on the status of his chore list (coming up next!).  Before we knew what happened, we were having twice daily check-ins on progress and a whole lot less was slipping through the cracks.  Not only is it making it less likely that any students get away with a sorry work-ethic, but it fulfills a real need in creating more focused family-time all around.  Our four-year old loves it, sets out the silverware, and demands his turn when it comes to asking the blessing.  It helps the King be more involved in the daily workings of our homeschool, as well.  And I sometimes needed the reinforcement of a "principal" figure.  After only two weeks, this program has been such a raging success that I am now sad for all the lost years I've spent not doing this.

I guess my idea of putting the kids
to work isn't a new one.
Which leads me to the Chore Charts.   My children and their habits have really suffered from my frequent failure to hold them accountable on various fronts over the years.  I admit I have failed in this, but I will save you the boredom of hearing me psychoanalyze myself.  The short story is that I'm lazy.  I am inconsistent.  I am overcommitted.  I am distractable.  We'll just leave it at that, shall we?  But I'm hoping I can still turn it around.  I think the humble checkbox may just be the answer!  For years, the King has encouraged me to require more from the kids in helping me around the house or at least cleaning up after themselves and I struggled with how I could do that consistently without having to be a constant nag.  So I spent a great deal of time before we started school re-doing their rooms.  Really, I just restored them to sanity!  So this created a "baseline" for them to aspire to in maintaining their private spaces, in addition to a number of other tasks they are perfectly able to do.  I created a very comprehensive list and designed a Chore Chart for each child.  For the younger school-aged boy, I included matters of daily hygiene and health (like drinking water and taking vitamins), as well as a reminder of piano practice.  There are things that must be done daily and then different things that are done in addition to the daily list on Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends.  Every item and every day has a place for a check mark.  I also included a comment line to record whether the duties were completed with too many reminders or with a bad attitude.  So far, so good!  There are no dust bunnies on my stairwell (middle son, Wednesdays) and no leaves on my driveway or decks (oldest son, Fridays).  My teen doesn't complain that his laundry hasn't been done because he has been assigned a laundry day of his own.

I feel as though these simple new initiatives are restoring a bit of control, hopefulness (on my part!), and joy to our household and family.  Even as I type that, I am reminded of something Beth Moore said in one of her "Beloved Disciple" bible study videos.  This is not a direct quote, but it went something like this:  We just think we're in control.  Then we realize we are standing there holding a leash with an empty collar attached to the other end and the dog is long gone!

What new amazing ideas have you incorporated into your homeschool this year that are simple enough for even me to try?

*I looked up the plural of syllabus and was flabbergasted to learn that either "syllabi" or "syllabuses" would work.  Who knew?  And that's my random grammar thought for the day.