Spring and Summer through the Zoomy Handheld Microscope

Mushroom from the neighbor's yard

Combine your kids’ natural sense of curiosity and the warmer months and all that comes with them, and there are an awful lot of things to look at under the microscope! Look what we found this Spring and Summer in our little world…

A Painted Lady Butterfly cocoon

A Painted Lady Butterfly cocoon

Another view of the Painted Lady cocoon

Another view of the Painted Lady cocoon

Mushroom from the neighbor's yard

Mushroom from the neighbor’s yard

Mushroom from the neighbor's yard

Mushroom from the neighbor’s yard

Feather

Feather

Flower from a weed

Flower from a weed

Dandelion

Dandelion

Dragonfly underbelly

Dragonfly wing

Dragonfly wing

Dragonfly tail

Dragonfly tail

Tortellini

Tortellini

Tortellini

Tortellini

Jenna's chipped fingernail polish

Jenna’s chipped fingernail polish

Posted in Blog Posts, Homeschool Tagged with:

Homeschool 7th Grade – What Worked, What Didn’t Work

RyanWorkingwithWildlife

Another year of homeschool is over – we made it through! But what about next year?… Like last year, we’ve been looking at what worked and what didn’t work during our son’s 7th grade homeschool year. Most of our challenges were similar to the previous year’s – Ryan’s ADHD, our daughter’s imminent liver transplant, and finding the balance between work and homeschool and family and everything else. Overall we all agreed this year was an improvement over the last. But here’s what DIDN’T work…

What DIDN’T work….

  • Unschooling Approach: This year we sort of tried an unschooling approach, which basically is a child-directed education driven by the child’s interests, sometimes called “life learning.” Since I feel the basics are important – math, writing and reading – I thought for our son’s remaining classes or interests, they could be more directed by him. And occasionally it worked and was magical, but mostly it didn’t and was frustrating. This schedule-driven, do-the-right-thing mom had a difficult time relaxing and trying to fit “life learning” whims into her busy schedule.
  • Flexible Schedule: We started having a flexible schedule this year. Instead of nagging, arguing, and fighting with Ryan all day to do his work, we just let him do his work when he chose. He had his daily checklist, he knew what needed to be done, he got to choose when he did everything. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. What didn’t work is some days he would sleep late, not start school until after lunch, then complain about how much he had to do all afternoon. Or sometimes he would just skip doing a class because it looked hard (usually math or java) for a few days in a row. This would create a snowball effect so that by Friday (sometimes even Sunday) he still wasn’t caught up with the week’s schoolwork, which meant no friends or computer time. Another thing that didn’t work is when he needed help and I was working. I would tell him a certain time that I could stop work and help him. But inevitably when I stopped, he refused to stop doing what he was doing (usually playing or reading) and thus the frustration and procrastinating continued. Overall, it was worth it, but we’ll be tweaking it this year.
  • Math: Most of the shouting and arguing that occurred this year had to do with math, his refusing to do math or not being willing to learn new lessons because they were “too hard”, and even trying to convince me he couldn’t do even the most basic math like subtraction and addition. So frustrating! I’m not sure if it’s the curriculum or hormones or…. What!? Now that school is out, Ryan assures me it is not the curriculum. But he can’t say what it actually is, which leads me to believe it’s hormones. The funny thing is, he’s actually very good at math. Once he grasps a concept, which he usually does quite quickly, he’s fine. I’m at a loss and not sure what we’ll do differently next year.
  • Monthly Calendar: Each month I printed out a blank calendar and Ryan wrote in the school schedule for the month, extracurricular activities/classes, etc. For bigger projects (like Java projects or Scout merit badges) we scheduled the steps he needed to take to complete the project on time. We started out this year doing the calendar, but after the Christmas break we never started it up again. I found it was a huge effort to keep him focused long enough to do the entire month of writing everything in.
  • Piano: Though piano isn’t part of Ryan’s curriculum per sé it is part of his education. He takes lessons from my mom and I think it’s important to have some kind of musical ability. But we’ve given him the option to quit piano and do any kind of art/music type of class and he keeps choosing piano. Like many of this other subjects, he would just skip the hard music pieces or the ones he made a lot of mistakes on. Getting him to practice has always been a struggle. We’re lucky if he’ll practice 5 minutes. And he’s sometimes rude to my mom which is totally unacceptable. Not sure what we’ll do next year.
  • Mom working: While my working is vitally important to our family’s financial stability, on the homeschool front it has been difficult for everyone. For Ryan he doesn’t get one-on-one attention all day from me like he prefers, and for me it is challenging to juggle my work, our daughter and helping Ryan. It’s something we’ll need to figure out.
  • Daily/Weekly Checklist: Ryan has a daily/weekly checklist to follow each day, a list of what he needs to do, something he has right in front of him that he can actually check off as he completes things. You can see our School Schedule here. While the checklist we designed has helped Ryan understand what he needs to do each day, seeing the list sometimes overwhelms him. He may, for example, spend all morning reading a book and then look at his list and complain about having too much to do or accuse us of not giving him any free time. Or, similar to last year, complain for half an hour about something that would take him 10 minutes to do. In some ways the checklist really works, but in others, it doesn’t. Time management and personal responsibility are things we continue to work on.
  • Attitude: Last year we were really struggling with Ryan’s attitude about homeschool (i.e. “You can’t make me!” “You’re so mean!” and “It’s not fair!” kind of attitude.) This year was improved for sure. Something new that emerged though was his skipping things that were hard or really new (and thus hard). Specifically we had issues with his Java class which became increasingly more difficult for him. At the end of the year when he had a final project due, he refused to even begin it, to let us help him, or ask for help from his teacher. “I’m passing – I don’t need to do it” was his argument. Finally I reached out to his teacher, who took Ryan under his wing, so to speak, and helped him complete his project. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So this year has been about the benefit of trying new things, even the hard things.
  • Time Off: Working at home with the kids buzzing around me, needing things, wanting my attention, it’s kind of overwhelming. Finding a healthy balance for myself and all the other people who need and want my attention is a continuing challenge.

What DID work…

  • MyTechHigh: This year we tried a different charter school that caters to homeschooling families – MyTechHigh. This school focuses on technology and all students are required to take a technology elective class. They have a huge range of choices from computer programming to design to 3-D printing and tons more. Ryan took a beginning Java Programming class for Minecraft this year. In addition to reimbursing for core curriculum costs, they pay for elective courses too, which was Taekwondo this year. They offer a wide range of online core and elective courses or you can use your own curriculums. As far as monitoring the students learning, the students report what they learn each week, like a list or as a blog post or video. They receive a pass or fail grade for each subject. What we liked about this way of monitoring is that Ryan’s education/learning wasn’t limited to his school subjects. He had to report on his core and elective courses, but he also reported about what he learned in scouts, piano and anything else outside of school. In addition, when he needed help, his mentor and teachers were readily available. Our experience with MyTechHigh was wonderful and we will continue with it next year.

  • Unschooling Approach:
     As I said before, there were things about trying the unschooling approach that didn’t work.  However, we did do some fun things that were Ryan-directed. We started a container compost pile (which he lost interest in after several weeks). After receiving a children’s cookbook for RyanWorkingwithWildlifeChristmas, Ryan took on learning how to cook something new each week. He learned to bake homemade bread with his grandma and has cooked many things with his dad. This he initiated and followed through with on his own, which is unusual for him. He took several merit badge classes at the local high school throughout the year and also took an astronomy class at the Planetarium. We used our Zoomy Microscope quite often. And this summer he went to a Working with Wildlife camp at the Ogden Nature Center where he held a hawk, cleaned animal cages, prepared food for and learned about the animals in captivity at the Nature Center, and more. Awesome experience.
  • Flexible Schedule: There were some things that didn’t work about having a flexible schedule, but some that did too. There were days Ryan finished all his schoolwork by lunch and had lots of free time. The best thing about it was the household arguing in our house was reduced considerably from last year. I worried when we started the year how having a flexible schedule might prepare him for the “real world”? etc. etc. But I look at my own work schedule that is often 15-30 minute increments of work time with 15 minutes to 2 hours between, with no real solid schedule, and I think maybe what he’s learning is the future of many jobs. Being flexible and going with the flow are really useful skills!
  • Mom’s Night Off: This year we worked on implementing Mom’s Night Off each week. Sometimes that looked like me getting together with friends for lunch or sewing for a couple of hours in the evening or reading a book without interruption. Sometimes it was just me going to bed at 7:30 p.m. Whatever it was, it helped renew my spirit and energy!
  • Extended Family Involvement: My mom taught piano lessons, some family history and also helped Ryan quite often with his schoolwork, especially math. Even though he and my mom sometimes butt heads, I’m grateful they have this special time together so often.
  • Self-Directed Curriculums: I chose self-directed curriculums again this year for Ryan’s core subjects – math, language arts and science. (Some worked, some didn’t.)
    • Math: We used Saxon Math again this year. He fights doing math, yet is very good at it. It was the source of much contention this year.
    • Language Arts: For grammar and spelling we used JacKris Publishing’s Growing with Grammar and Soaring with Spelling and Vocabulary curriculums.
      • Growing with Grammar includes a daily lesson read from the lesson book, then a corresponding workbook assignment. The layout was simple, lessons not too long or difficult so they keep Ryan’s attention.
      • We tried Soaring with Spelling and Vocabulary for the first time this year. There is a 16 word spelling/vocabulary list each week and an exercise or fun assignment each day to help learn the words, with a test on the 5th day. Ryan was easily able to do this on his own and enjoyed it too!
      • For writing we switched to Write On!, a writing workbook that is more visual which I thought would appeal more to Ryan, and it did overall. It had a lot of fun, little assignments, which he enjoyed, and the little assignments led to large, structured assignments like essays, which he hated and basically wouldn’t do. Mid-year we switched to 642 Things to Write About: Young Writers’ Edition. Ryan loved it! Some of the assignments were “Write a to-do list for a villain”, “Describe your dream tree house”, “Create a haiku about your shoes”. This is the kind of writing that appeals to Ryan. And being a workbook format, he loved that he could write right in the book.
    • Science: This year Ryan wanted to learn more about animals. We got the Mark Twain Publishing Animal Life Series workbooks: Invertebrates, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Mammals. Also Birds which we didn’t finish. Science was his favorite subject (other than Taekwondo).
  • Incentive: If Ryan didn’t love playing computer games, I don’t know how we’d get him to do schoolwork. Or anything. He gets half an hour of non-school computer time each weekday and two hours on the weekend. He doesn’t get his weekday time until his schoolwork and chores are done and he doesn’t get his weekend time unless he’s caught up on the entire week’s work. Finding an incentive has been a lifesaver this year. After his birthday this year and the (much-dreaded) acquisition of an xBox, we had to add a new computer rule. Any amount of time he goes over his daily allowance is deducted from the following day’s computer time. This has cut down on nagging and shouting in general.
  • Sister Play Time: When Ryan was in public school his sister would be asleep when he left in the morning and he had to go ALL DAY without seeing her! He hated it. Now playing with her has become part of his daily “routine”.

Most of this list are the things my husband and I felt worked and didn’t work. But what did Ryan think worked and didn’t work?

What Ryan Thought Didn’t Work:

  • Math – he needed more help and preferred Grandma’s help
  • Doing hard things
  • Reading – he wants to set a books-per-month goal instead of pages-per-month
  • Writing – he hated any structured writing like essays
  • Piano lessons – “except when it’s easy and I don’t make mistakes”
  • Mom working
  • Dad trying to help me with school
  • Shouting

What Ryan Thought Worked:

  • Taekwondo, Scouts and cooking (Taekwondo being the only class of those in his actual school schedule)
  • “Eating whatever I want whenever I want”
  • New writing book that was fun and he could write in
  • Reading – “I liked trying out new books and reading aloud together”
  • Science – “I loved it!”
  • Weekly checklist

All in all, in spite of all this year’s challenges, homeschooling was a great experience and we hope to take what we learned this year and rock 8th grade next year. Here’s what we’ll be changing up next year…

  • Math Hour: This year I will be setting a specific time each day to stop work and help Ryan with schoolwork. I hope it works!
  • Unschooling Approach: While I struggled with this approach, I think it’s useful for Ryan as he’s not interested in anything he has to learn at school. So I will be working on my flexibility skills this year and looking for opportunities to expand Ryan’s mind in areas he is interested in.
  • Curriculums:
  • Sensory Processing Disorder: After much research and reading, we’ve decided to have Ryan tested for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). He fits so many of the common red flags that it seems like knowing one way or the other would be helpful for all of us, especially, I’m hoping some of the ongoing challenges Ryan has with school. (I’ll update later on this.)

So that’s it! We’ll see how 8th Grade goes! Happy Summer!

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, Homeschool Tagged with:

Zoomy Handheld Microscope – Peak into another World

Dandelion? or Sea Anenome?

prod4416_1_lgWe bought a really cool microscope recently for Ryan’s homeschooling called a Zoomy Handheld Microscope. It plugs into your computer’s USB port and comes with a viewing application so you view what you’re looking at on your computer monitor. You can also record pictures or movies of what you’re viewing. Very cool!

It doesn’t have the strongest magnification, but it’s strong enough to have some fun. Check out some of the images we’ve recorded…

zoomy handheld microscope S20150904_006

Cheese

zoomy handheld microscope Microfiber fabric that looks smooth looking with naked eye

A kind of chenille, microfiber fabric

Denim

Denim

A closer look at the Lego Magazine

A closer look at the Lego Magazine

My husband's beard

My husband’s beard

Dandelion? or Sea Anenome?

Dandelion? or Sea Anenome? You decide.  🙂

Wondering what a chocolate chip looks like close up?

Wondering what a chocolate chip looks like close up?

By the naked eye, this bug is about the size and shape of a hyphen - What a surprise to find it had antennae, legs and distinguishable body parts!

By the naked eye, this bug is about the size and shape of a hyphen – What a surprise to find it had antennae, legs and distinguishable body parts!

Pine cone

A pine cone

Mold inside one of our Halloween pumpkins

Mold inside one of our Halloween pumpkins

S20151124_007

And another mold inside the same pumpkin

S20151124_003

And yet ANOTHER mold inside the same pumpkin

And what 12-year-old could resist looking inside his or her own nose?

And what 12-year-old could resist looking inside his or her own nose? (Eew!)

If you’re looking for a fun, educational tool that will inspire and excite your kids about the world around them, and doesn’t cost a fortune, I totally recommend the Zoomy Handheld Microscope!

 

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, Homeschool Tagged with:

When You Wish Upon A Star

IMG_3466Jul2015

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you…

Make-A-Wish Foundation rounded out Jenna’s wish experience with her Star Raising Party in July. Ideally the party would have been within a month of her wish being granted, but we had to reschedule twice because of illness and unexpected surgery. Finally in July we were able to make it happen. Originally it was going to be a sea creatures theme to go along with her wish to meet a dolphin (which she did in April) but in the interim she acquired this intense love of princesses. We have no idea where this came from! We’ve never watched a princess movie or anything like that. Anyway, Make-A-Wish was kind enough to switch themes for Jenna.

Sinnerlella, as Jenna calls her favorite princess, Cinderella, was Jenna’s buddy through the whole party and entertained all the children with stories of how she became a princess…

IMG_3447Jul2015

And then brought her out to the atrium where all the stars are hung…

And then they raised Jenna’s star together…

We were moved by the support of our family and friends, the Make-A-Wish staff, Cinderella, and the experience of Jenna raising her star, knowing whatever happens, Jenna’s star will be there forever…
IMG_3466Jul2015

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, LCH and Chemo Tagged with: , ,

Princess Jenna

princess2

We just had to get new family pictures after Jenna was rid of her feeding tube in May. We were able to work with Gina at Little Lubby Dubby Photography again. She is an amazing lady who is not only super talented, she also has a huge heart. Part of her photography business is working with Special Kiddos like Jenna who live with a life-threatening disease, or premature babies or children born with birth defects. We were honored and thrilled to have her take our family’s big milestone pictures this summer! And as you can see, her work speaks for itself……

princess

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, LCH and Chemo Tagged with: , ,

52 Pillows #40 – Outdoor Haven

IMG_6585

I haven’t worked on my 52 Pillows Project for about 10 months. About the time I last published a 52 Pillows post (last fall!) is when I got a job. Ten months later, I really love my job… and… I am really struggling to find balance between work and family and sewing and everything else. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Actually I’m not even close. And I applaud all working mothers for what it takes to hold it all together!

Anyway, if it weren’t for custom orders, I wouldn’t be sewing at all, so I’m grateful for this custom pillow/cushion cover project I did back in June. By the time I got around to getting pictures a few weeks ago, the pillows and cushions were all settled and comfortable in their new home. What fun to see these fairly simple pillow and cushion covers transform my client’s patio into a secluded haven they’ve enjoyed this summer.

IMG_6589

IMG_6586

IMG_6583

IMG_6588

IMG_6585

Posted in 52 Pillows Project, Blog Posts, Decorative Pillows and Bedding, Home Decor Tagged with: , ,

Homeschool 6th Grade – What Worked, What Didn’t Work

5492740280_e492b4bf56_z-500x333

Our homeschool year has ended and before we delve into 7th grade choices, looking at what worked and what didn’t work during our son’s 6th grade year seems necessary. Since this was our first year of homeschooling on our own and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I expected there to be a lot more that didn’t work than did. We had continuing challenges to deal with like our son’s ADD, our daughter’s frequent doctor appointments, unpredictable hospital stays, and her liver transplant that could happen any time. And as if our lives weren’t crazy enough, I got a job in September. I work at home and have a relatively flexible schedule, but it’s still something I need to focus on. My husband has worked only part-time, which has helped with taking care of our little lady, but our son’s schooling has been mostly my domain. But, in spite of everything, more things worked than I expected. First, here’s what DIDN’T work…

What DIDN’T work….

  • Harmony Educational Program: Harmony Ed is a charter school that caters to homeschooling families. We chose their Flex option which allowed Ryan to do his core classwork at home and his elective courses at an on site location with other homeschooled kids. While there were some things that worked about Harmony (see below), there were some big things that didn’t work for us… Harmony students are required to complete Harmony-generated worksheets for each core subject twice a month, no matter what curriculum you use at home. I understand they’re trying to ensure kids are actually learning and progressing, but what we found was that the worksheets rarely lined up with the curriculums we were using.  We’d have to stop everything we were doing to work on the worksheets, then we’d have to get back into the groove of our own work. The worksheets then had to be scanned and uploaded to the Harmony site every 2 weeks. In general, the disruption outweighed actually learning.
  • The Checklist: At the beginning of the year we had a weekly schedule posted on the wall and even though it was easy to see, Ryan still didn’t seem to know what was expected of him each day. He’d think he was done when there were still things left to do, which lead to arguing and complaining. The posted schedule Did Not work…. Mid-year we created a checklist for Ryan to follow each day, a list of what he needed to do, something he had right in front of him that he could actually check off as he completed things. You can see our School Schedule here. While the checklist we designed helped Ryan understand what he needed to do each day, seeing the list sometimes overwhelmed him. We would rarely spend more than half an hour on any given subject (often less) but he’s not very self-aware when it comes to time management. He may, for example, spend all morning creating things with LEGOs and then when he looked at his list complained about having too much to do or accused us of not giving him any free time. Or he’d complain for half an hour about something that would have taken him 10 minutes to do. So in some ways the checklist did work, but in others, it didn’t. Time management and personal responsibility will be something we continue to work on next year.
  • Attitude: Ryan has had a very difficult attitude this year. “You can’t make me!” was often heard in our home as well as “You’re so mean!” and “It’s not fair!” I especially love that this last one since it was my personal favorite at his age, so I guess it’s karma. Overall there’s been A LOT of complaining and then anger when we refuse to listen to the complaining. (A mom can only take so much!) We’ve had lengthy conversations about what kind of person he is choosing to be – a person who complains or a person who does what needs to be done or a person who sees where he can cause positive change, etc. – and how his choices make him feel. It’s hard to determine if this is just Ryan being a tween or if it’s ADD. The main reason we put him on medication a couple of years ago was depression related to ADD and it was working really well. But as this year progressed, his attitude became increasingly worse. We have tried different doses of his medication and different medications only to find the side effects weren’t worth the advantages. In the end we decided to take him off medication completely and change our approach to school. This has not been an easy decision. Ryan’s attitude has been our greatest challenge this school year, to the point where we’ve considered putting him back in public school just to get a break. (Incidentally, we aren’t planning to do that, because in spite of all the challenges, we feel homeschooling is best for him right now. We will also be trying a more flexible schedule next year – see below).
  • Time Off: I work at home, my kids are buzzing around me while I work. In the evening, I feel I need to spend non-working time with my family. But I rarely get a break. Even though my awesome husband has been doing all the cooking since I started working and most of the laundry, I still found that in the evening I was spending time with my family out of obligation. I felt terrible feeling that way – I love my family and I love to spend time with them. The problem was, I wasn’t getting enough time away from my kids, enough time to myself to decompress. Now we are creating a structure to remedy this and will continue to next year.

What DID work…

  • Harmony Educational Program: What DID work about Harmony Ed was the Flex program. Ryan did his core course work at home and one afternoon each week went to one of Harmony’s locations for his elective courses. He got to meet and mingle and learn with other homeschool kids, and we got a break from each other. Another thing that did work about Harmony was being reimbursed for many of our school-related expenses.
  • Daily Checklist and Problem Solving: When we found that having our weekly schedule posted on the wall for Ryan to clearly see and he still didn’t seem to know what was expected of him, we asked him to help solve the problem. His idea was to have a checklist of all the things he needed to do each day. So that’s what we did. You can see our School Schedule here. The checklist has definitely helped make expectations clearer. And it was wonderful that he solved the problem himself.
  • Monthly Calendar: Each month I printed out a blank calendar and Ryan wrote in the school schedule for the month, playdates, extracurricular activities/classes, etc. as well as due dates for Harmony assignments. For bigger projects (like research papers or Scout merit badges) we scheduled the steps he needed to take to complete the project on time. I think this is starting to make some difference in Ryan’s ability to manage his own time and we will continue this.
  • Extended Family Involvement: My mom taught science this year as well as piano lessons and music. Science was never one of my strengths so I’m very, very grateful my mom took this on. She’s very creative, is an R.N. and found some fun ways of teaching Ryan. This year in science they went more in-depth with anatomy, learned about astronomy, micro-organisms and sound. In music, he’s really progressed in his piano skills, though he says he hates it, and has learned about several composers. Even though he and my mom sometimes butt heads, they have a really close relationship and I’m grateful that they have this special time together each week.
  • Self-Directed Curriculums: I purposely chose self-directed curriculums for Ryan’s other core subjects – math and language arts. (Some worked, some didn’t.)
    • Math: We used Saxon Math and he was able to complete 1-1/2 years worth of math. I don’t know where he ranks with other kids his age (and nor do I care) – I do love that he was able to work at his own pace and move quickly through things that came easily to him and spend extra time on things he struggled with. We will continue using Saxon Math next year.
    • Language Arts: For writing and grammar we used JacKris Publishing’s Growing with Grammar and Winning with Writing curriculums.
      • Growing with Grammar included a daily lesson read from the lesson book, then a corresponding workbook assignment. The layout was simple, lessons not too long or difficult so they kept Ryan’s attention.
      • On the other hand, Winning with Writing wasn’t great for us. There was some instruction on the structure of writing different kinds of papers, and in between, a paper was supposed to be written each week. This was too much writing for Ryan. He has great ideas for fiction papers and enjoys doing research on subjects of his choosing, but writing about things he doesn’t care about is almost impossible. Also he is very good at articulating his thoughts and sharing what he’s learned verbally, but writing is difficult for him. This is not a writing curriculum we’ll use again.
      • Mark Twain Media Publishing’s has excellent spelling/vocabulary workbooks called Spelling Skills. Each week focuses on one themed list of words, with interesting, fun exercises each day to reinforce spelling and definition. This was easy for Ryan to do on his own, most of the time, kept his attention and I think he even enjoyed it.  = )
  • Connecting Subjects: Ryan is not a really motivated student in the traditional sense. He doesn’t care about the traditional subjects if you present them in the traditional way. And he has trouble focusing on things he doesn’t care about. But what has worked is looking for opportunities to tie different subjects together. For example, when we read Artemis Fowl which has real-life locations in the story, like Dublin, Ireland, we found it on the map. We might look at pictures or read more about Ireland or look at Dublin on Google World. In one of the Percy Jackson books we read the characters traveled through the Panama Canal. That lead us to the map again and then we watched a documentary about how the Panama Canal was built. This lead to discussions about segregation, oppression and racism as well as some government discussions. Even the day when Madagascar movie quotes kept popping into his head and interrupting our school work became an opportunity to visit our map, find Madagascar, and (if you’re familiar with the movie), map out the route a ship might have taken from New York to Madagascar. (That was an Inspired Mom Day!)
  • Reading: Each month Ryan set his own reading goal – how many pages he would read. We would agree at the beginning of the month what his prize would be if he met his goal. Sometimes it was a new DVD movie, or going to see a movie or a new book. This worked really well. He read 47 books this school year for a total of almost 9,000 pages read. In addition to his own reading, we listened to 5 audiobooks and read an additional 9 books together. I did not try to force him to read any particular books, only followed his interests – fantasy and sci-fi are favorites. (You can follow what we read on Goodreads.com). When he’d lose interest in reading, I would check out 15 or 20 books from the library that I thought he might like (and tried to find as many as I could that started a series). Of those he might like 3 or 4 and we’d be set for several more weeks, months if he grabbed onto a series. Reading together is our favorite thing. As Ryan likes to say, “We’re bookworms, Mom.”
  • Mid-Day Exercise: Ryan has been taking swim lessons for his physical fitness this year. In the middle of the year we found mid-day classes at one of the community pools. The break in the middle of the day was excellent AND there were often only two students in the classes (sometimes it was only him) so he was able to get one-on-one coaching.
  • Incentive: If our son didn’t love playing computer games, I don’t know how we’d get him to do schoolwork. He gets half an hour of non-school computer time each weekday and two hours on the weekend. He doesn’t get his weekday time until his schoolwork and chores are done and he doesn’t get his weekend time unless he’s caught up on the entire week’s work. Finding an incentive has been a lifesaver this year.
  • Playdates: Our boy is pretty social and the only thing he misses about public school is his friends. So we make a point of scheduling playdates with his besties a couple times a month or more if we can. If he has a playdate to look forward to, it makes the days he doesn’t see friends easier to bear. We’ve also made an effort to Skype or FaceTime with friends during the week or his cousins who are friends.
  • More Family Time: Ry ADORES his sister. When he was in public school she would be asleep when he left in the morning and he had to go ALL DAY without seeing her! He hated it. Now they play throughout the day, and even though he’s annoyed by her “stupid movies” or “dumb songs” or her being too loud, he is happier being able to spend time with her throughout the day.

Most of this list is the things my husband and I felt worked and didn’t work. But what did Ryan think worked and didn’t work?

What Ryan Thought Didn’t Work:

  • Yelling
  • Procrastinating
  • Making Excuses
  • Cursive
  • Harmony worksheets

What Ryan Thought Worked:

  • Seeing you and Dad more (direct quote)
  • Eating whatever I want whenever I want
  • Scouts
  • Journaling
  • Science Experiments
  • Computer Time
  • Reading
  • Swimming

I think we’re on the right track since we overall we agree.  = )

All in all, in spite of all this year’s challenges, homeschooling was a great experience and we hope to take what we learned this year and rock 7th grade next year. Here’s what we’ll be changing up next year…

  • Different Charter School – MyTechHigh: We will be trying a different charter school that caters to homeschooling families – MyTechHigh. This school focuses on technology and all students are required to take a technology elective class. They have a huge range of choices from computer programming to design to 3-D printing and so much more. They offer a beginning Java Programming class for Minecraft – Ryan has been asking me for weeks when he gets to start this class. In addition to reimbursing for core curriculum costs, they pay for elective courses too, which could include (but not limited to) Ryan’s swim lessons or piano lessons if we chose. They offer a wide range of online core and elective courses or you can use your own curriculums. As far as monitoring the students learning, the students report what they’ve learned via email or video themselves. I think this will increase Ryan’s participation in his own education. We are all looking forward to this change!
  • Flexible Schedule: For the last month of this year we added a new element to the Daily Checklist which we will be continuing next year. Instead of nagging, arguing, and fighting with Ryan all day to do his work, we just let him do his work when he chose. He had his daily checklist, he knew what needed to be done, he got to choose when he did everything. Some days he got things done by lunch time, others days he didn’t start until 3 p.m., some days we were still doing work at 8 p.m. Such unpredictable, unscheduled days made this schedule-driven mom uncomfortable, but you know what? It was worth it! Arguing in our house came to an almost complete stop! And, Ryan was still learning and doing what needed to be done. I think maybe he was possibly learning more!… I have my doubts, I do. How is a flexible schedule preparing him for the “real world”? etc. etc. I have to trust that we are doing the right thing for Ryan, that he will learn everything he needs to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. (Unschool Rules has been a great resource for trusting!)
  • Unschooling Approach: I’m fascinated by the unschooling approach to homeschooling, which basically is a child-directed education driven by the child’s interests. Some call it “life learning.” But I’m not completely sold on it. I do feel that the basics are important – math, writing and reading. Beyond those subjects I like the unschooling approach. For this schedule-driven, do-the-right-thing mom, this is uncomfortable, but I feel in my gut it’s the right thing for Ryan. So next year I’m going to try to relax and let him lead me in learning instead of the other way around.
  • Curriculums:

So that’s it! We’ll see how next year goes! Happy Summer!

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, Homeschool Tagged with: ,

No More Feeding Tube!

11377086_10152780636646496_8950652743281144273_n

As Jenna’s liver doctor watched her chowing down on pistachios last week at our quarterly visit to get Jenna’s feeding tube changed, he said, “Let’s try it without the tube.” Wooooooo-Hoooooo! “I feel like jumping up and down,” my husband said, basically reading my mind. We high-fived instead.

feeding tube 11377086_10152780636646496_8950652743281144273_n

This is a trial. It’s a good time to try because she’s been stable and she’s not on a strict medication schedule. So if she keeps gaining weight, we can keep it out. If she loses weight, it goes back in.

Then there’s the challenge of getting her to take all of her medications orally. Occasionally in the past she has voluntarily taken one or two by mouth, but most of them we’ve put right into the tube. Easy-peasy.

At first we were bribing Jenna to take her medicine with M&Ms. Not a healthy habit, but it worked, most of the time. Jenna’s feeding therapist recommended a reward system, a prize bag with little dollar store stuff (bubbles, markers, necklaces, etc.), and a week into this new adventure, the prize bag is actually working really well. “Prize! Prize!” Jenna will shout, and now even asks to take her medicine. Progress is good!

Two years and 8-1/2 months later, no feeding tube! We’re so proud of the progress our girl has made!!

 

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, LCH and Chemo, Liver Transplant Tagged with: , , ,

Make a Wish

270801_2246162**

Jenna had her wish to meet a dolphin granted in April by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This amazing organization grants the wishes of children with life-threatening diseases, whether they wish to go somewhere, meet someone, be someone or have something. We were honored to have them grant Jenna’s wish to meet a dolphin. As part of her wish, we spent a day at SeaWorld in San Diego, which included one-on-one interactions with some of their dolphins, feeding the sea lions, touching bamboo sharks and bat rays, the orca show, beluga whales and more…

(The video doesn’t have a great visual angle of Jenna but the audio of her giggling is priceless)

SW

 

We also spent a day at Legoland where we met Wyldstyle and Emmett from The Lego Movie, saw the real basement set of The Lego Movie and had tons more Lego fun…

LL

 

Another day was spent at San Diego Zoo, where we saw a baby jaguar, baby orangutan, baby gorilla, a sleeping Tasmanian devil (they’re a lot smaller than we expected), beautiful aviaries, and pandas (my favorite) along with all the other zoo animals you’d expect to see. We also got to ride in a security shuttle and visit the First Aid station when Jenna got overheated. Whee! She bounced back quickly but we didn’t stay at the zoo as long as we’d planned…

zoo

 

And still there was plenty of time for swimming, exploring and playing on the beach too…

MAWbeach

 

What a fun, magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thank you Make-A-Wish!!!

 

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, LCH and Chemo Tagged with: , , , ,

The 9 Months In–9 Months Out Theory

Jenna clown with Daddy

When I was pregnant with my son and my body was expanding in every direction, I asked my midwife, “How long will it take for my body to get back to normal?” She said, “Most women take about 9 months to get back to their pre-pregnancy size… Pregnancy takes 9 months and it takes about the same amount of time to bounce back.” She was right (about me anyway). I was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes about 9 months later. It also took me about that long to adjust mentally and emotionally to being a mom, to find my “new normal.” Even with my second baby… Lately I’ve wondered if this same recovery time applies to other life events.

When Jenna was in the middle of chemo and it felt like our life was falling apart, I asked other moms whose kids had cancer what to do, how to get through it all. One very wise mom said, “Take care of your baby now while she needs you. You can pick up the pieces later, when this is all over.” So that’s what I did. I took care of my sweet girl. I did little else. I didn’t try to find a job and I didn’t try to revive my business until her chemotherapy was finished. Honestly, I barely cleaned my house. Now, more than 9 months since Jenna rang the bell in March on her last day of chemo, we are still picking up the pieces.

As Jenna’s treatment came to an end last Spring, we started out being excited about the possibilities of living life again and had many months of fun and adventure together. We even created our Learning To Live Again project. This fall, however, our Learning to Live Again project morphed into the Picking Up the Pieces project. The pieces of our lives that we neglected during Jenna’s treatment – our finances, our marriage, our own selves, our house – have needed to be dealt with and it’s not been very fun…

After many months of feeling good, even through Jenna’s treatment, my husband sunk into a major depression. He somehow kept his great sense of humor and happy countenance through her entire treatment and I wonder now if he had a delayed reaction to the trauma. It took some time to find another effective treatment, his sales dropped in the meantime and our already taxed finances became even more so. I decided it was time for me to go back to work and got a job for the first time in over 11 years. Luckily I work from home and have flexible hours, since Jenna still has a feeding tube and requires much care, we’re still homeschooling our son, and I’m still running my Etsy shop.

Our marriage counseling continues. I’m trying to give my husband the space he needs to work things through and find his “new normal”, and together we are trying to find a new balance now that I’m working. And somehow stay connected and close through it all. The whole arrangement is kind of precarious, the need for space and the need for connectedness. We are working on it almost constantly.

A small leak we mostly ignored during Jenna’s treatment, from our upstairs bathroom into our downstairs bathroom, was finally “diagnosed” as a leak through the walls (not the pipes or drain) and a big mold problem we needed to take care of before Jenna’s transplant. We moved out of our house while our upstairs bathroom was partially gutted and redone. For the first 3 weeks we house-sat for my sister, then lived with my mom and stepdad for the remaining time. Six weeks later we moved back into our house, with a beautiful new bathroom!

Our son has developed some health issues as well. After no success with our family doctor, we took him to a different doctor and have recently found out that his very limited diet of bread and cheese variations is the culprit (he doesn’t digest carbs or fats well). We are finally making headway with him and he’s feeling better than he has in months. Hurray!… progress!

As for me, I’m dealing with health issues I neglected and/or ignored during Jenna’s treatment. I need to take better care of myself. On one hand, we’ve finished the chemotherapy adventure, and with each passing month of remission, it’s a little easier to relax and breathe. On the other, Jenna is waiting for a liver transplant. She’s been on the transplant waiting list for almost 8 months. It could happen any day. And as the months pass, we see more symptoms of her liver disease worsening. Small, but alarming signs. I feel so afraid sometimes. And I’m so focused on her and everybody and everything else, I forget to take care of myself. I purposely stay busy to keep my mind pre-occupied. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Picking up the pieces is hard work and slowly we are putting our lives back together. If the 9 months in, 9 months out theory applies here, we still have almost 9 months to go before we’re back to our pre-chemotherapy life (not even possible), or settled into a “new normal.” But who knows how the next 9 months will go. Going through treatment with Jenna was kind of like climbing a mountain. After all the months it took to “get to the top,” we weren’t really done. We still had to hike back down to find our “new normal.” And in Jenna’s case, we will have another mountain to climb most likely before we get to the bottom of this one. Jenna could have her liver transplant any day and then we’ll be on a whole new timeline, climbing a different mountain altogether. Thinking about the possibilities is too overwhelming so for now, it’s easier to stay in the present, today, this week, this month, and pick up whatever pieces we can as we go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With all that’s been going on recently, I admit I’ve lost sight of the spirit of our project. I have felt worn down by life. But in spite of that, we actually have done some things to fulfill on our Learning to Live Again project….

IMG_3257JennaSept2014

We went to a reptile expo and Jenna came face-to-face with all kinds of scaly creatures

We went to the zoo with "Nanny" (as Jenna calls my mother-in-law)… Shortly after this photo Jenna fell down and banged up her knee so much the blood soaked through her clothes and ran into her shoes. We thought we'd end up in ER (luckily we were quite close to "her" hospital) but it eventually stopped on its own.

We went to the zoo with “Nanny” (as Jenna calls my mother-in-law) on a rainy day… Shortly after this photo Jenna fell down and banged up her knee so much, blood soaked through her clothes and ran into her shoes. We thought we’d end up in ER (luckily we were quite close to “her” hospital) but it eventually stopped on its own. Unfortunately, this incident is the only thing our son remembers about the day.  = /

We explored new parks and met new people while we were house sitting for my sister. We also helped her sell off many of her belongings (she and her husband had already moved out-of-state), packed up what was left in the house, cleaned and helped them move. (I wouldn’t have had the energy to do all that even 6 months ago – More progress!)

Jenna made her wish at Make-A-Wish (to swim with dolphins or whales at Sea World)

Jenna made her wish at Make-A-Wish (to swim with dolphins or whales at Sea World)

We had fun on Halloween (here's our son)

We had fun on Halloween (here’s our son)

Jenna clown with Daddy

Jenna clown with Daddy at our neighborhood Halloween party

The day after Halloween we went to a Trade In Your Unwanted Halloween Candy Party. In the center of their table was a huge bowl the kids dumped their unwanted candy into. The bowl was over 2 feet across… seriously big bowl. (see below) It was overflowing.

The Bowl

The Bowl, post-party

Jenna planted herself next to this bowl and tried all kinds of candy, mostly DumDums, those little lollipops. She would unwrap them one by one, take a lick or nibble, put it down and move to the next. This may sound like irresponsible parenting, letting our child who doesn’t eat much of anything eat a bunch of candy, but when your child hardly eats anything, it’s thrilling and delightful when they will eat something, anything, no matter sugar content or lack of nutritional value.

1093924_10152361531616496_3906304625644275483_o

A night of awesome food interaction for Jenna. Look at all the flavors she tried!

We also spent a lovely Thanksgiving with relatives we haven’t seen in a very long time, drove around looking at Christmas lights (Jenna was delighted!), had a wonderful Christmas with family, enjoyed a few days of relaxation and movie marathons, baked goodies and delivered them to neighbors, and walked in the first snow of the season.

In spite of losing the spirit of our project we still managed to do a lot of living. We’re looking forward to a new year, doing a lot more living life, and making the best of whatever comes our way…

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Best of life and living to you and your family in 2015!

From The Appelbaums and TiffinyDesigns!

Posted in Blog Posts, Fabric of Life, LCH and Chemo, Liver Transplant Tagged with: , , , , ,

Get the latest posts in your inbox...

Archives

TiffinyDesigns Patterns also available at:


Download Sewing Patterns Today!