Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vermont 50

I woke up Saturday morning all stressed out. The weekend weather report was dismal: wind and rain, thunder and lightning. The idea of getting up in the middle of the night to drive to Vermont and run 50 miles on Sunday was becoming less and less appealing.

I was ready to ditch the whole thing when I logged on to the race website to check the list of entrants. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? My friend Penny had upgraded herself from the 50K to the 50-miler. Penny was running! I would have someone to run with!

My friends, things began looking up.

Saturday evening I set two alarms for 2 a.m. and proceeded to sleep not a wink as I watched the hours tick by. I got up at two, just before the alarm, quietly dressed, made my tea and slipped out of my sleeping house.

It rained all the way up. Three hours and twenty minutes of rain. I listened to a collection of humor pieces from the New Yorker called Fierce Pajamas on CD, which proved to be excellent company. All the great writers from the last century humored me along, and before I knew it I was in Vermont. AND IT STOPPED RAINING!

I found Penny in line at the Porta-Potties and stayed with her for the rest of the long day. We were thrilled to have found each other.

650 mountain bikers went off in front of the runners. They went in stages based on age and ability. By the time our race started at 6:40, the sky was light and fog was starting to lift.

Not such a great picture (I took it while running), but you get the idea.

As usual, I don't remember much about the first 20 miles. Penny and I ran together, talking our heads off. We moved in and out of other runners' orbits, but didn't stick with anyone for very long. The weather was perfect, strangely enough: cool-ish with an occasional mist from above. The leaves were just starting to turn (unlike here in Southeastern CT where everything is still green).

We ran on dirt roads and nice wide trails. There were no technical bits. The running was smooth and lovely. We walked the uphills for the first half of the race to save our legs. Penny is a phenomenal uphill walker. She told me that Jeff Washburn (of GAC fame) once told her to always "walk with a purpose." Indeed she does.

Here I am around mile 12, still looking fairly energetic. I actually felt mostly good all the way to mile 40.

Right around mile 20 (if I remember correctly) we started to go up. Up and up and up. I love uphill running. All those years of pushing heavy strollers have beefed my uphill muscles. Give me up-hill over down-hill any day.

We ran by horse farms.

And made friends with the horses.

Right near the midpoint of the race we came upon the World's Best Aid Station at Smoke Rise Farm. Jimmy Buffett was singing Brown Eyed Girl and the food spread was phenomenal. Check out the homemade WHOOPIE PIES!!! Absolutely divine.

The farm itself was to die for.

If you like the idea of living on a Vermont hillside, it looks like the neighbors are moving.

Coming (reluctantly) out of Smoke Rise, we continued up and up. We should have been at the top of a freaking Alp by now, we had been running up for so long.

We finally said goodbye to the road and headed back down on the trails.

I'm not sure how long we ran on this lovely trail. We moved through a couple more aid stations, feeling progressively less peppy. Around mile 35 my stomach started to go south (it's like clockwork) and Penny's hamstring started giving her trouble. We took turns jollying each other along. Luckily, when one of us was feeling poorly the other was feeling pretty good.

Somewhere along the way, the trail turned labyrinthine. It twisted and turned along a narrow path. The trees seemed to be closing in on us. With all of the switch-backs and circle-backs, it felt like we weren't making any forward progress. Just when I thought I would go zipping out of my mind, the trail would twist down, tantalizingly close to a road, only to wind up again into the gruesome trees.

Between mile 40 and 45 I was really quite sick. Penny pulled me through this stretch, and we made it to the last aid station with 4.6 miles to go. I couldn't eat anything at the aid station, but did choke down a couple of Cliff Blocks and a cup of Coke to carry me through to the end.

We walked out of the aid station and then started a little shuffle, telling ourselves that we were keeping up a good pace and making great time. (We were barely moving forward, mind you.) We could hear the finish line as we headed onto the cross-country ski trails at Mt. Ascutney.

Just as we came upon the darkest, muddiest, most treacherous stretch of trail, the skies opened up. It could not have been raining harder. I was wearing my road shoes rather than my trail shoes, and I could not get any traction in the mud, which had been chewed up by the 650 mountain bikers. (How mtn bikers got through this stretch, I will never understand). At one point, as I slipped and slid through the snot-like murk (think of your three-year-old's first sneeze of the morning right in the heart of flu season) on a narrow trail high above a deep ravine, I started to seriously worry for my safety. I would not have been the least surprised to have been accosted by a Rodent of Unusual Size. I despaired that I would never, never, never make it to the finish line. Those last miles took us an hour and a half.

And then we came out, still in the rain, to the grassy hill above Mt. Ascutney and the finish line.

What a welcome sight it was. We ran down the hill together laughing and linked pinkies at the finish line. 11 hours, 2 minutes (or something like that).

I immediately got in the car and drove home. The rain came down in buckets the entire trip. I listened to Tom Perrotta's new book, The Abstinence Teacher, and, what with my head all full of endorphins, did not even notice the passage of time.

Thanks to all of the race officials and volunteers who made this such a great race. In the end, it really was a wonderful gift of a day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Slouching toward Bethlehem

Today Nell did ten minutes of math, ten minutes of angry dictionary digging, and then spent the rest of the day in her room listening to By the Shores of Silver Lake (Laura Ingalls Wilder) on CD.

I emailed my unschooling friend Susan: Tell me its okay that Nell is in her room all day listening to a book on CD.

Sister, she said, it's more than okay. And then she hit me with a quote from John Holt.

Nell is turning me into an unschooler. Every day I get closer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taper Malaise

I hate tapering for races. The logistics of long races make me nervous (travel, drop bags, clothing, food, electrolytes, water bottles, etc. etc.). I need to run when I'm nervous. Running helps me feel better. It is difficult to wrap my brain around the self-defeating notion that I am nervous about running, but I cannot run to soothe my nerves. I am an roiling, breathing Escher drawing come to life.

I am running the Vermont 50 on Sunday.

Or at least I am signed up.

I am not nervous about the running itself. I cannot WAIT to begin running. I am nervous about getting up to Vermont, finding the starting area and parking the car amidst something like 600 mountain bikers. I have to get up at 2 a.m. in order to be at Mt. Ascutney by 5:30 for the pre-race meeting. I also have to figure out where to get my number. The vast majority of runners will have already checked in and obtained a number on Saturday. Alas. I cannot go up on Saturday. Too many things to do. (And I don't want to shell out for a motel room.)

The details are killing me. And all of the unknowns.

AND the forecast calls for pouring rain. Again!

Just let me start running. Once I start running, I'll be fine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting out

We are still at the stage of our homeschool development in which it is important (or at least I think it's important) for us to get out of the house every day. I always go through this stage when I find myself in a new, attention-demanding situation. I need a mental and physical break. And the kids probably do too.

When Nell was first born, we would go for a run in the stroller every morning and a walk in the front pack every afternoon. Ditto after the birth of both of her brothers. I couldn't stand the thought of being stuck in the house all day with a baby (much as I loved them all). As time went by and I got more comfortable being "confined," however, the need to get out waned, and sometimes disappeard completely.

But right now, we all need to get out of the house.

There are so many homeschool activities here that finding someplace to go is never a problem. But getting everyone away from their projects, out of their pajamas, into their shoes, and into the car is an energy draining propostion. Every time.

There is always one kid who doesn't want to go wherever it is we are headed, and one or two who cannot wait to get out. I am constantly coaxing at least one kid into the car. It's exhausting.

Monday we went to the Humane Society to look at the dogs. Excellent outing (once we were all in the car). There were dogs, cats, kittens, guinea pigs, birds, and even an exotic lizard, all in need of a nice long visit from a bunch of excited kids. The woman working there loved them. She gave them a tour and introduced them to each animal. We all fell in love with a 2-year-old greyhound named Paco. We are inching closer to getting a dog.

Yesterday we went to Community Think, our local homeschool coop at the library. Again, excellent. The kids played dramatic games while I chatted with some of the other parents, all of whom seem to be kindred spirits. Then everyone went over to the skateboard park. Nell, Simon and Ben loved sliding down the slippery hills with all the other kids. It was good for them to connect with other homeschoolers.

Yesterday afternoon, Grandma came for her weekly art lesson. They made collages!

Today we take Nell to art class. I want to check out a local trail I have not yet been on with the boys while she's there. We'll see.......

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Living the myth

While preparing to homeschool the kids I read tons of books about homeschooling. Naturally. And most of these books spent a good deal of time waxing poetic about homeschooled children letting themselves go, losing themselves in the happy vortex of some self-chosen, intelligence-building activity. The books spoke of homeschooled children spending hours on writing projects, science projects, math projects, thoroughly engaged (almost always sprawled on the floor), actively connected to their learning.

I was beginning to think it was a myth.

Until yesterday.

We started the day with a family run on River Road with Karen and Roxie.

Nell, after some initial hesitation requiring a couple of calls back and forth to Karen ("We can't run. Nell doesn't feel well." And then, "We can run! Nell has recovered!"), had a wonderful time on her bike. And the boys sat happily enough in the stroller eating saltines and watching the birds and the boats. Both back stroller tires were completely flat, which added a hefty upper body component to the run.

Back home afterwards we settled down to work. (Note to self: a bit of exercise before learning makes for tremendously compliant children.)

I asked Nell to write captions for some of the photos from her triathlon. I thought this would get her creative juices flowing. No dice. Nell does not do creativity on demand.

My friend and homeschooling guru, Heather, told me that she once had similar problems motivating her kids to write, until she broke down and allowed them to dictate stories while she did the actual writing. Several of my homeschooling books (most particularly Marty Layne's book Learning at Home) also recommended this tactic for young writers: Become the scribe.

I tried this with Nell. "You tell me what you remember from the swim and bike and run, and I'll write it down."

Still not much. "The water was cool," etc.

"What do you want to write about Nell?"


"Okay, tell me about Chizzle."

And we were off and running. Chizzle is Nell's guinea pig. She gave me a blow by blow description of everything Chizzle was doing at that moment. And while I read it back to her, she grabbed the pencil to write a bit more.

Then Simon dictated a story about Sammy (the other pig). "Sammy peed on the floor....."

And then all three kids got involved in writing up extensive menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'm not sure how that project evolved, but they spent an hour happily engaged, and I felt like I, as a homeschooling parent, had arrived.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beginning to gel

Three weeks in, I think our homeschool is starting to gel. All of our activities are up and running, our schedule is becoming more predictable (a huge comfort for me, if not so much for the kids), and our "work" is getting done on a daily basis rather than on a weekly basis.

Because my legs are tired from last weekend's 50K and I'm trying to save them for next weekend's 50-miler, I haven't been running as much this week. I've been doing more research, less writing. More sleeping, less swimming. I slept right through my swim yesterday morning because I was out late the night before kvetching about the horror that is Sarah Palin with my excellent, like-minded friends.

I shouldn't call her a horror. If I knew her, it's possible that under certain very limited circumstances (sharing snack bar duty at our kids' hockey game? -- though I cannot imagine my kids playing hockey) we could be friends. Or at least chatting acquaintances. Which is the very thing about her -- her realness, her it-could-be-me aura -- that attracts so many people into her orbit.

What happened to Leaders We Can Look Up To? ("I'd like my president to be just like me. Or maybe even a little bit worse!")

But her politics are scary. If even half of the unsolicited information about SP that pops into my email inbox is true, we're in for a wild ride if she gets elected. (Notice I have not mentioned a word about McCain. The actual candidate. Nobody is talking about McCain anymore.)

But I digress. As the commenters on my newspaper blog would say: Stick to my area of expertise.

But as a new homeschooling mom, I no longer have an area of expertise. I am flying by the seat of my pants. Winging into the stratosphere without a parachute or a net. Look, mom, no hands!

We have signed up for a bunch of activities. Community Think, art, Seaport, Nature Center, Classical Kids. We have somewhere to go almost every day. This is mostly for Nell's benefit. She needs social activity. Simon and Ben have each other and would happily stay home most days. I feel bad interrupting their games every day to drag them to activities that they would prefer to skip. It's a tough balance. Am I stressing Simon out too much? Overstimulating Ben? It's difficult to say.

Yesterday at the Seaport class Simon walked from venue to venue clutching the hand of a 5-year-old blond girl. The women will save him in the end.

We are going to try our first homeschooling run this morning with my friend Karen and Roxy the dog. Nell on the bike, boys in the stroller. Or maybe Simon on his bike as well. We'll run on River Road. Up and back at 8:30. There shouldn't be much traffic. I'll try to remember to bring the camera.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Making math fun?

Our math books finally arrived. I was casting about for something productive to do yesterday after lunch when I wandered by the front door and saw the box of books out on the porch.

Simon uses Singapore Math. He is a "visual" learner -- he is tremendously concrete in most things -- but he does fine with Singapore. He doesn't seem to need many math visuals to get the basic concepts. Numbers make innate sense to him.

I started Nell on Singapore Math and she hated it. Actually, I'm not sure it she hated Singapore per se, of if she simply hated the fact that I was making her do math. We talked about it and I said I would switch to a different math program.

After doing a bit a research, I decided on Miquon Math, which is very visual and somewhat off the beaten path (just like Nell!). Miquon makes heavy use of Cuisenaire Rods. Nell loves to play with these rods, so I thought the program might be a good fit.

So the books arrived, and after leafing through the first few exercises (called Lab Sheets) and reading the accompanying Lab Sheet Annotations, I called Nell down to talk about even and odd numbers.

She grumped down next to me on the floor and started fidgeting with the rods. I explained to her how each rod color corresponds to a number from 1 to 10. We practiced many different ways of making ten. And then we talked about even and odd numbers from every angle: divisibility, pair-ability, even-plus-even makes even, even-plus-odd makes odd. We used the rods every step of the way. I wrote the answers on the worksheet so Nell didn't feel like she was doing busywork.

After it was all over, Nell said, "That was fun."


Monday, September 15, 2008

Pisgh Mountain 50K

It could not have been raining harder when Brian and I woke up at 4:30 Sunday morning to get ready to head up to the Pisgah Mountain Trail Race. The rain was beating the windows and flooding the gutters while I made coffe and toasted a corn muffin. Big raindrops flew by the porch light as I changed into my running clothes and gathered my bottles and Gu's. I had to put on my raincoat for the first time since June just to haul all of my stuff out to the car.

The kids were spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa's so the house was weirdly quiet as Brian and I made our frantic last minute preparations (where was the Vasoline? where was Brian's wallet?) and departed for the race.

Driving on Rte. 95 I hit a big puddle and hydroplaned just as another car was passing me on the left. I clutched the steering wheel for dear life as the car skidded over the water in the dark. And then I slowed down. If we missed the start, so be it. I wasn't going to orphan my babies just to get to the race on time.

Half an hour into the trip we stopped to pick up Grace and Steve, who were also running. Grace was using the race as a long training run for the NYC Marathon and Steve was hoping simply to finish without completely blowing out his knee.

We arrived at the start with 20 minutes to spare and made quick work of getting our numbers and our complimentary loaf of Vermont bread. For the moment, the rain had eased up, though the sky was still ominously dark.

Grace is a much faster runner than I am, and Steve is even faster than Grace, but the three of us started together and planned to stay together all day.

Grace and me at the start.

We positioned ourselves at the back of the pack and shuffled up the road when the gun went off. Brian, who was running the 23K, was further up and we never saw him again.

The first two miles follow a long uphill on a hard-packed dirt road. We ran this very slowly to save our legs for the rest of the day. Once on the trail, the route for the 23K quickly splits off to the right (a tempting diversion!), while the 50Kers continue to the left. Grace and I ditched our long sleeved shirts at the trailhead. A woman standing there said she would bring them back to the finish line for us (which she did -- thank you!).

The first trail miles were wet but lovely, mostly on an old, wide carriage road with a few rolling ups and downs and one major climb. We walked the ups and ran the downs. The woods were drippy and foggy with an eerie darkness everywhere. It reminded me of early spring in Portland, OR and my long ago runs in Forest Park.

Coming into the first aid station, Steve decided to drop. His knee was hurting. The Chopat strap he had hunted down the night before the race was doing nothing for him, and he feared permanent damage.

So we said goodbye to Steve at the aid station in the rain.

But we hadn't seen the end of him. He reappeared like Lazarus of the Trail about 20 minutes later. Evidently the people at the aid station had no idea how to get him back to the start. They told him that the next aid station was much closer to the start/finish and he could walk out from there. So we had the pleasure of Steve's company for a few more miles.

I started to go a bit too fast over the next stretch of trail. I was out in front with Grace and Steve behind me. Those two are much faster than me, so I felt obligated to keep up a stiff pace. We marched quickly up the uphills and flew down the downhills. Barrelling down was fun, but I worried for my quads later in the race.

I fell going uphill (not downhill, thank my lucky stars) and almost wrecked my knee on a pointy rock. That slowed me down. Grace said I was going too fast. Point taken.

We came zooming down to the next aid station (roughly mile 10) and said goodbye once again to Steve. I looked at my watch and was shocked, SHOCKED to find that we had been running for almost 2 1/2 hours. It had taken us 2 1/2 hours to go 10 miles. Dodging the muddly puddles had taken a huge chunk of time out of our run.


We walked the long, steep hill up from the aid station. I was breathing hard, my heart was racing, and my stomach felt ready to let go. This was going to be a long, long day.

I tried to drink while walking and I took a couple of S caps to settle my stomach. By the top of the hill I was feeling a bit better. That climb, it turned out, was the low point of my race. Luckily, I never felt that bad again.

I don't remember much about the next section. Grace and I chatted away about everything under the sun. We didn't see another soul all the way to the next aid station about four miles later.

Just after aid station 3, we came upon a beaver dam.

Which made the trail all around it look like this.

After wading through this Big Muddy, we no longer made any attempt to keep our feet dry. The jig was up. Soggy, heavy shoes for the rest of the day.

The next section of trail was a roller coaster of steep ups and downs through a lovely stand of pines. I felt like Little Gretel wandering around looking for the witch's gingerbread house in the fog. It was surreal.

We started running the uphills here rather than walking. We were more than half way done now and our legs still felt good, so what the hell. We shuffled up at a pace slightly faster than walking. I hate walking uphill. The shuffle is faster and less of a drain on the hip flexors. We passed six or eight people in the hills, the most people we had seen all day. Everyone was taking about the mud and the puddles. We just nodded politely, said hello, and shuffled on.

It was a relief to come into the next aid station, because we knew we only had 10 miles left. 10 miles is nothing. We would definitely finish.

About a half mile into the 5-mile Kilburn loop I heard, "Hey, Pam!" It was my old friend, Penny. She and I had run Pisgah together last year and had a fabulous time gabbing away the hours. She was rehabbing then from a serious hamstring injury. We stayed in intermittent email touch, but the last time I saw her in person she could barely walk. I was volunteering at the Lake Waramaug Ultras and Penny stopped by to say that she wouldn't be running because her plantar fascia has just popped (pause for stomach dropping groan).

I never thought I see her on a race course again.

But here she was, toodling along at a decent pace on the Kilburn Loop. She told Grace and me that back in the spring she had been at mile three of a ten mile trail race when she felt (and heard!) her plantar facia pop away from the bones of her foot. She kept running another six miles until she couldn't take another step and had to be carried to the finish. She was told she would never run again.

Evidently she persevered until she found a surgeon willing to let her run. He completely detatched the fascia and now she runs with lots of tape and an orthotic insert.

The grim details of that story got us all the way back around to the aid station and down to the last five miles. Grace and I said goodbye to Penny and picked up the pace (or so we thought) to the finish line.

The last miles were nothing but a long slog through slippy, slidey, deep-seated mud. The trail had been torn up by an excavator putting in a new snow mobile trail and all of the rain had turned it to soup. It took us a full hour to run (and we did run every step of the way) three miles through this slop.

The final mile was back on the road, and we toughed it out to the finish, where our now clean and well fed husbands awaited us. Brian had a great race, finishing 18th in the 23K in 2 hours, 18 minutes. He would be a fantastic trail runner if only he would train a bit more. Alas.

Here we are at the finish, in a time of roughly 6 hours and 42 minutes, muddy to our knees and thrilled to be out of the soup.

And just a few minutes behind us was Penny, the miraculous, facia-less wonder girl!

I had been hoping to beat my time from last year, but with all of water and mud on the trail I was 20 minutes slower. One of the guys at the last aid station told us that the winning time this year was also 20 minutes slower than last year. So I don't feel too badly.

All in all it was a wonderful race. Beautiful trail and dramatic weather and good friends to share it all with. It doesn't get much better.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Baby's first tri

A few weeks ago I found an application for the Mighty Kids Triathlon at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme online and asked Nell if she was interested in trying it out.

"Will you come with me?"

"Of course."

"Let me think about it."

And a day later she said, "I'll do it."

Driving to the race, Nell seemed remarkably at peace. I was more nervous than she was, pre-race jitters being de rigour for me. She stood calmly next to Brian in the long line to get registered while I stood back with her bike and her brothers. We set up her transition space with her bike, helmet, shoes and shirt. Brian and I, along with many other fit looking parents, were giving her great tips for making speedy transitions. She nodded politely, but seemed much more concerned with getting all of her hair into the lime green swim cap. ("I get to keep it!")

Down at the beach she gathered with all of the other 8 - 10 year olds in identical lime green caps. There were thirty or forty of them bunched together at the edge of the water. Nell's was the youngest age group and the first to go. She looked a bit pensive during the pre-race instructions.
I tried to urge her to move to the front of the pack. She has been swimming on a swim team for almost a year now and she's pretty good. I figured she would probably be one of the stronger swimmers in the group. But she was reluctant to move from her spot in the back. "Nell," I said. "You're a good swimmer. If you get stuck behind a bunch of slow kids you might get kicked."

Just before the starting whistle blew, she moved up and dove in at the far left of the group.

Most of the kids swam with their heads up the entire way and Nell was no exception. The kids swam about 75 yards out to the big red ball and back again. A few kids chickened out in the waves. The East Lyme swim coach tried to help them by holding their hands as they swam, parents on the beach yelling at them to keep going. It was heartrending.

Nell came running out of the water looking happy and strong.

The path to the transition area went under a train bridge and up the sidewalk next to the bath house. I ran along beside Nell telling her how great she was. She was all smiles.

Parents were not allowed in the transition area, so I ran around to the exit to catch her starting out on the bike. She took FOREVER getting her shoes and shirt onto her wet body, but finally she mounted the bike and toodled through the parking lot. Off she went, in no particular rush, looking for all the world like a little person out for an enjoyable morning ride.

The bike portion lasted six or seven minutes and then she was back in the transition area. Evidently she had a little crash with some kids coming in on bikes as she was leaving for the run. I missed that. Brian told me about it later. But she seemed none worse for the wear as she started out running.
A little over half way into the quarter mile run, Nell got a stitch in her side. My heart sank as I saw her grab her belly and stop to a walk. She walked for about ten steps and then started trotting again, still holding onto her shirt above the stitch. She finished well, still with a huge smile on her face.

She keeps asking me when she can do another triathlon. "I loved it!" she says. Next year seems like such a long time to wait.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Writer Teaching Writing

Last week Nell began writing a story about building a house out of blocks for her guinea pigs, Chizzle and Sammy. Since she had just built said housing, we decided to write the piece from the perspective of a journalist. Or a memoirist. We talked about how it could be funnier if we added bits that didn't actually happen. We talked about the "difference" between fact and fiction and the hazy line in between.

Nell started by making a chronological list of everything that happened (as per the instructions in our writing book, Writing Strands 2). On the second day of the assignment, she wrote the story up. She was not nearly as happy doing this as she was making the list. The writing was good, but I was surprised by how bad the spelling was. Words she absolutely knows like "house" and "other" were misspelled. I suspect that she was so caught up in the creative process that her spelling skills went out the window.

A weekend intervened, and today was Day 3. I circled all of the misspelled words and wrote them correctly spelled under her story. I instructed her to re-write the story using correct spelling. Being a writer of sorts myself, I love the editing process. Fixing up existing writing, to my mind, is much easier and more enjoyable than the blood-from-a-stone-process of coming up with new ideas.

Nell disagreed wholeheartedly. She did not want to do this re-writing assignment. She stalled and sulked and kept telling me that she couldn't pay attention. I thought this would be easy-peasy. Evidently I was wrong. I toyed with the idea of giving up. I don't want to stifle her writing this early in the game. But I persevered. I sat with her while she re-wrote line by line with neat printing on writing paper. The minute she finished, her mood brightened, and all was well again.

I took it easy on her for the rest of the day. We played math games and then went to the Book Barn, an amazing used book store with goats and cats and a playground.

We found frogs.

The boys found a cat.

And a random woman offered to take a photo of the boys and me.

I gave the camera to Nell and she snapped one of me.

I look like a brand new homeschooling mother just doing her best to get through the day. A little bit harried, a little bit tired, a little bit thrilled to be outside with all of her kids in the middle of weekday at the beginning of September.

Sweet Jesus, I look 100.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Good Day

Today went very well. Our best homeschooling day so far. We started by making houses for the guinea pigs (Chizzle and Sammy) out of blocks. The pigs knocked the houses down repeatedly and ate fistfuls of carrots, all to great hilarity.

Nell wrote about this for her writing assignment. We talked about newspaper reporting. She will write a final version tomorrow. Simon wrote about a bird making a nest in Draw Then Write. This is the perfect book for Simon, because it forces him to think about all of the "wh" questions (when, where, why, etc), a gaping hole in his language abilities.

When everyone burned out on writing we went outside, filled a big tub of water, and played What Sinks/What Floats. Most things float, it turns out. We found a snake under a rock and we tried to sink a Daddy Long Legs. The DLL survived, and we got to see it drink (it sucks water off each leg in turn, typewriter style). As I knew it would, this activity eventually degenerated into a water fight with the hose. I got some gardening done during the melee.

After lunch we went to a bug class at the Nature Center. The kids were thrilled to be around other kids. Ben was upset because he was too young to be included in the class.

Me: Ben, it's hard to be the littlest one.

Ben: Yes, it's hard. I will grow to be soft.

Nicholas and Christopher from the neighborhood came to play after nature class and I heard all about the first week of school from Pia. Nell played with Sophia and Anna after dinner, and then she and I went for a walk around the block. We talked about our streetlight shadows and why they seem to follow us, then catch up, then run ahead. Nell said that she's starting to like homeschooling.

Nell and Brian are outside now looking at the stars with Max. I'm going to bed.

Homeschooling: Week 1

Yesterday, late in the morning, Nell was making stuff with pattern blocks, Ben was playing with stacking cups and Simon was reading a book on the living room couch.

"Wow," I said to Nell. "This was how I imagined homeschool would be. Everyone happily doing projects on the floor."

"Yes," she said. "This is what I was picturing, too."

A few idyllic scenes like this one aside, it has been a difficult week for Nell and me. The boys have taken to homeschooling like piggies to a field of mud, mainly because they have never been to "real school."

Ben and Simon get up early and start right in with their books. Simon did fifteen pages of handwriting on Tuesday and three pages of Writing (Draw then Write) on Wednesday, first thing in the morning. Ben sat right beside him monitoring his every move. Simon soldiered on, seeing nothing amiss in this intense filial attention.

Nell, who very much enjoyed kindergarten and first grade, misses school. She misses her friends, and I feel for her.

The first two days were dark. Nell cried or sulked every time I asked her to do anything academic. She hated her math book, so we researched math for visual learners and ordered from Miquon Math (evidently uses Cuisenaire Rods for demonstrating concepts -- not being a visual learner myself, I am intrigued). I looked up Charlotte Mason and came across a company called Winter Promise. Nell loves history and she loves to read. So this week we are reading. All of her new workbooks will arrive next week. I'm not sure if we'll get to them or not. She seems much happier without workbooks.

We may be headed to unschooling. Or at least making unschooling a big part of our days.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reschedule and rethink

Since starting our homeschooling this week, I've had to drastically alter my running schedule. For the past seven years I have been running with my friends, Karen and Nan, at 8:30 in the morning. I push one or two kids and Karen brings along her lab/retriever mix named Roxie. We talk about movies, books, politics, parenting, everything. These runs have been a lifeline for me through some rather difficult years.

Now I run by myself at 5:00 in the morning, right during the time I used to write my columns and bogs for the New London Day. I love running early in the morning. The world is still quiet and not one can see me under cover of predawn dark. This has always been my best time of day.

So how am I going to see my friends, and when am I going to write? Something's gotta give, and clearly it ain't going to be running. I have backed off the writing; blogging just once a week for the paper. This feels right, as I am starting to feel a bit burnt out writing about my life and my kids every day for the general public. I'm too well known locally. It freaks me out a little.

But I am a working writer, which has always been a lifelong dream. I'm not going to give it up entirely. My next monthly column: Parenting as Personality Test.

I ran up Clift Street 7 times this morning. Clift Street is a steep half mile hill. The top is exactly a mile from my house. The mile warm up and warm down, with an hour on the hill makes for an ideal early morning workout. No traffic, nobody awake to wonder why I am running up and down the hill so many times.

People around here think I'm whacked.

And they're probably right.....
The plantar fasciitis (or whatever it is) seems to be all better in my left foot. Now the ball of my right foot is hurting when I run. I have a PT appointment Friday. So I have high hopes for another speedy recovery.