Sunday, October 22, 2006

Splitting Household Work

In response to Laura at 11D:

For the record, before I start, I do consider myself a liberal feminist! I work very part-time, so the house and family is my main job. I married a good guy, and agree that’s #1 in importance on the list of how to avoid getting stuck with all the drudgery when there are children in the picture. I’d say #2 is to have a division of labor, stick to it, and don’t nag the other about their work. My observation is that this is very difficult for some people!

At our house we have a fairly traditional distribution of the workload. He works all week (plus 2 part-time jobs as a firefighter and EMT). I take care of the kids, shopping, meals, money, and the cleaning and organizing inside the house. He takes care of the yard work (except gardening, which at our house is optional) and other outside work (gutters, etc.). He fixes stuff that he can fix, mounts things to the wall, etc. He generally handles the kids’ sports events on weekends. In addition to the fairly tradition breakdown of jobs, he folds all the laundry (often on Sundays, in front of the football game), and (sort of) takes care of one bathroom. We occasionally chip in on the other’s job. There are definitely things that don’t get done, or at least not as often as they probably should. My priority (and I think our priority) is a happy family life, and organizing closets comes second (or tenth). I crisis clean for guests, but I’m not generally in a panic about the state of the house. It’s undeniably lived in, but far from squalor. It’s our medium, and it wouldn’t fit everyone.

For better or worse tradition often exists because it worked in some way. We didn’t plan a traditional division of labor, but it works for us. Also, I believe that routine and a general understanding of who does what job leads to less nagging and stress. It may be that the lawn hasn’t been mowed for three weeks, but he knows it, and it’s not my job, so I try to keep my mouth shut about it. I certainly don’t want him telling me how to clean the house.

I think he does feel some stress at being responsible for the family income. When I was early in our pregnancy with our third and he was very unhappy at his job I said he could quit, we’d cancel the addition we planned to build (we had money saved for it), and I would get a job. He didn’t take me up on it. It was a limited time offer, as I wanted to be home with the baby. If he wanted to switch roles now, I would do my best to figure that out (the baby is two-and-a-half and doesn’t need Mama 24x7 anymore). I think having a parent with time for the house and the kids is a good lifestyle, and I’m willing to cut costs if necessary to keep it. If we get to the point where we aren’t willing to cut costs, then I’m willing to try to find more work – I hope it wouldn’t be full-time, though.

I do worry about what my sons will think about the traditional division of labor, so we try to mix it up every now and then. He can cook a meal, and I can mow the lawn or use a power tool and we do it occasionally. We want to show them that we are both capable of doing whatever needs to be done. I think in general we both believe that, and I hope that that attitude is picked up by the kids.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Can you save the world and care for a toddler?

What's the protocol of commenting on someone else's blog, but wanting the same text for my own? I don't know. Anyway, here's my response to this:

I don't pick up after my husband (much). And I don't hear my other at home friends complaining about that either. But the kid stuff is definitely done by the moms. In very few families would the childrearing look the same if there was a different woman in charge. It *is* hard to save the world with a toddler clinging to your leg. It's hard to manage a conference call with your two-year old getting closer and closer while calling out "I poopy!" Young and childless feminists need to hear:"It's the kids, stupid." But kids need some level of consistent care. Besides, although it's a lot of work, I'm the boss, and sometimes, it's kind of fun. How's that for not answering your question (why get married?)!

I'm not sure it's why I got married (it probably isn't), but I can't picture being a stay-at-home mom with only a small income and an even smaller "career" if I didn't have the commitment of marriage attaching me to the family salary earner. And I think he and I agree that although not perfect, this arrangement is pretty darn good.

Ambleside Online (Year 1) for non-Christians

I am enjoying the Ambleside Online curriculum (year 1), but I am a secular homeschooler, and I don't share the same moral and religious reasons for homeschooling as the creators and many of the users of AO, I find I have to approach the readings with a little caution. From the beginning, I decided not to do any Bible study. I will let UU Sunday School take care of that (and they are). I researched Trial and Triumph by Hannula, but decided not to use it for a few reasons: I would have had to buy it, as it is not one of the books available for free on the web; it is the history of Christian martyrs which makes the stories intense since every hero dies! Religion is important to history, but I prefer to let my children learn about history and religion through other sources.

Another AO1 resource which I am ambivalent about is Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty. We read the first story, which has wonderful information about butterflies and a message about trusting that something good comes after death. It is not overtly Christian. The second story I have not yet read aloud. It has wonderful information about bees, but the message has to do with keeping to your station or position in life, and I am uncomfortable with that. I haven't read ahead any further to see what the other stories are like. I haven't included them in our personal schedule -- we may add a few as extras.

Aesop's fables also have moral messages, but I haven't found any of them contrary to my own views. Also, they are so short, that I can easily skim them as I'm settling down to read them aloud. I don't feel I need to prescreen.

Fairy tales can have moral messages, but they can easily be discussed in the context of how one character made choices, or felt pressured, or whatever. They needn't be taken as prescriptive. (Unlike the Gatty parables, which do feel as though they're preaching a universal truth.)

Incidentally, we loved the first fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but have been a little disapointed in the others we've read (Why the Sea is Salt, The Glass Slipper, Soria Moria, The Death of Koshchei the Deathless. I think I'll stick to the better known fairy tales for awhile, on the assumption that they are better known because they are better stories!

Those are the books from the Year 1 list that seem to have potentially unwelcome content and messages for non-Christians. I think the others have little Christian content (are the AO advisory board members laughing behind their hands at me?)

I haven't found a mailing list for Non-Christian/Secular AOers, but I'd be interested in other opinions.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Activities for Four Year-Olds

We had a tough week last week with two kids with high fevers and the third (the four year-old) pinging off the walls. I had a cold for a day, and the weather has been gloomy the last few days. With my six year-old sick and my four year-old not, I've been doing more with him and have had a chance to think about what I want his "preschool year" to look like.

My goal for him is to keep him busy and happy. My experience is that 4 year-old behavior can be very difficult to live with – why is this not written about more? I don’t find the twos to be very terrible at all, but four – yikes!! Mine are willful and easily frustrated, take a sudden dislike to doing things for themselves that they can do perfectly well (both of mine have suddenly wanted me to put on their shoes, a skill which they were proud of half a year before). Mine has quite a temper, and often hits when he gets frustrated. He cries easily, and holds onto his hurt feelings for awhile. And he seems not to hear me asking for different behavior so that we can fix a situation that is going rapidly downhill, so suddenly a small problem becomes a big incident (obviously, this is a parenting issue also). He seems uncomfortable in his own skin sometimes – being four is hard for him, too, I think. So keeping him busy and proud of his abilities and accomplishments is an important part of improving his behavior.

I’d certainly like to play to his strengths and interests, which are different than his big brother’s. I think nature study will be a hit with him, and I’m not at all confident that it’s going to work as the science component of my six-year old’s homeschooling. He also is interested in animals, so the book lists from Sonlight, Winter Promise, and other places that focus on animals in the early years suddenly make sense for him, when they didn’t click for my oldest. I expect he’ll listen to some of the Ambleside readings I’m doing with my oldest – in fact, he might enjoy the Burgess and Herriot readings more than his big brother.

However, I have no interest in giving him busy work, even if I could persuade him to do it (which I doubt that I could). I certainly think that learning numbers and letters and beginning phonics is appropriate, but I hope to unschool them for this year at least, and have so far had some luck with that. Last week he found an old cell phone that will charge, but doesn’t have a service plan, and has been busy dialing numbers on that and working on connecting the name of the number with the shape of the numeral. We call daddy occasionally, and he has to dial lots of numbers for that (11 digits plus a three digit extension). Changing channels is another way for him to associate written numbers with their values – that is, if he can get the remote away from his big brother! I have another trick to teach number/letter recognition – I give them passwords on the computer. His is two letters right now, so I think he’ll know those fairly well, and I’ll change it in a month or so. I will look for opportunities to teach letters and letter sounds, but I am unlikely to look for formal preschool lessons in those areas. (I hesitate to say I won’t, because I recently reread some of my early thoughts on homeschooling, and I am not in 100% agreement with them now, so I want to leave wiggle room for my plans to change!)

So I’d like to strew materials around to engage him. Almost by chance we had a few good days recently with things that showed up, and things he asked for. They included:
 uncommon materials for free play: big boxes, plastic shelf liner 12' (this was a clear plastic sheet, 12’x12”
 tubes & marbles or balls (what fits & doesn't)
 painting with marbles
 cutting out shapes & patterns
But I’m looking for other twaddle-free ideas to strew or offer to him.

Here are some of my other ideas for activities this year:
 letter of the week ideas: i.e. posting one Jan Brett drawing a week
 write child's story (he tells it, I type or write it)
 preschool art (ideas from Maryanne Kohl’s book)
 talk about stories "I wonder . ..." what happens next, what a character felt, etc.
 observation & description of art, nature, life, etc.
 eric carle collage
 FIAR ideas (Five in a Row books, by Jane Claire Lambert)
 thematic reading (age appropriate books on a topic they're interested in) bugs, dinos, animals. See booklists from Paula’s homeschool site, Sonlight, Ambleside Online, Winter Promise, Five in a Row, and others
 cooking
 potholder weaving
 listen to music, classical, children’s, other
 numbers in context: how many forks do we need for the family, party, there are five of us, but two don’t want dessert
 Letters in context: today we looked at some in the car while we were waiting for Grandma – E is for Empty, F for Full, C for Cold, H for Hot.
 sewing: small change purse with fold over top, other
 lacing cards
 beading
 sorting: beads, money, buttons, etc.
 play with change: talk about 1,5,10, 25, etc
 look for & reproduce patterns
 notice shapes
 simple graphs

I’m sure that’s not all. I haven’t finished looking at the resources I have in the house, so I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

Additional ideas in comments are very welcome!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thoughts about reading

We've had good and bad days since the last post. The kids were away for the long weekend (I joined them on Sunday). Tuesday and Wednesday did not go well – lots of yelling (me and the kids, who fought with each other). Even so, we did some of our reading. I also put P in a time out for not doing his reading lesson with me. I then apologized for yelling and said that I used to do the same thing – be miserable for hours about a task that would take fifteen minutes. Something about the whole ugly incident clicked with him (maybe just that he wanted to play) and he came down and did the lesson with me in under five minutes. Later in the week I had him read a picture book to me instead of doing the Really Reading lesson, and that went well. I think he feels a lot of pride about it – I overheard him say to his brother "Now that I can read . . . ."

When I think about it, phonics lessons seem like a good way to kill any joy of reading, and really don’t fit with my philosophy of learning from living books. So *I’ll* review the phonics rules so that we can go over them when it makes sense, and reading lessons will simply be reading practice. And I’ll have to think about how to approach it for the next son. Hmm, maybe a term of Sesame Street, followed by a term of Between the Lions, followed by real books!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Starting First Grade

I am solidifying homeschooling plans for the year. We sent our letter of intent to the school system, and received “permission” to homeschool in return. In our school system my oldest would be starting first grade, my second son is a year away from kindergarten, and my youngest son is two. Last year I bought Oak Meadow 1 for some structure for our kindergarten year, but I didn’t find it a good match for my family. The stories didn’t engage. The outline was useful, but I can get that for free! OM1 is headed for a new home, and the proceeds are being used for some new materials.

This year I’m very excited to be using AmblesideOnline Year 1. I know I’ve visited the site before but it didn’t click until a recent visit. I’ve looked at Sonlight over and over, and I want to like it (minus the evangelical material), but it’s expensive and never seemed to be a great fit. We recently finished the first Story of the World, and although I can supplement now, I think I’d have an argument on my hands if I suggested covering the same material again. I know there’s plenty more to learn about, but his feeling is that he’s already covered the period. So the time period of Ambleside year 1 is exactly right. The price is fabulous too. I’ve bought the Burgess book, the Comstock book, Paddle to the Sea, Just So Stories and a beautiful hardback of the recommended edition of Aesops Fables (on remainder). I download chapters from Fifty Famous Tales, An Island Story, and the fairy tales to my PDA, and we can read anywhere. I also bought Singapore math (just the workbooks) and I had Handwriting Without Tears from last year (although I really love italics – we may switch later). I’d say I’ve spent about $100.

I also looked at other Charlotte Mason sites, and will use them are resources for additional or substitute reading: Tanglewood Education, and Simply Charlotte Mason, particularly. SCM seems to cover Biblical history for four years of their six year cycle! TE doesn't push the Christian religious education, although I do think there are mentions of it on the site. Neither gave us as good a fit for this year as Ambleside.

We’re spending a little extra time on Rome right now – he likes Julius Caesar, so we found a biography at the library. We also got a video some general books about the Roman Empire with factoids and graphics. I was surprised but he really enjoyed the first fairy tale we read.

I really like the ease of the whole Ambleside/Charlotte Mason approach. I love literature-based learning. I don't have any doubts that this will work with my oldest son. He retains material he hears very well, and he seems to manage the sometimes difficult language, hopefully learning some vocabulary from the context. He's interested in what we're reading (with occasional exceptions). I want to use living books, and I'm very happy to find resources/book lists that mean that I don't have have to pre-read. I have a twelve weeks schedule on one sheet of paper (front and back). I feel like I can persuade him to do short handwriting and reading lessons, and so far I don’t even have to persuade him to do math. I like the idea that he’s learning from the literature and not from me. He can be pretty stubborn about learning from me! I like the simple approach to music – I feel like I can manage listening to four pieces by one composer over twelve weeks. Likewise with art appreciation – we can manage to look at some paintings over twelve weeks. I’m still a little overwhelmed by nature studies, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon. And that’s the only part that feels overwhelming – everything else feels surprisingly doable. (Of course, I'm leaving out some components of AO -- Bible, church history, and the nature parables.)

I love unschooling – it’s exciting to watch the kids figuring out what they need to do. But I feel like I can’t keep up. Last year P was fascinated with dates of birthdays and holidays, but it took a curriculum for me to suggest that he make a calendar. This year he’s fascinated by history, and the AO curriculum will help me feed that hunger. It takes little enough time, and it gives him fuel for his projects and imagination, and plenty of free time to follow his inclinations. I feel it is the best of both worlds. I think he needs some outside inputs in order to figure out what interests him! But I guess I can’t say we’re unschooling – so we’re eclectic! As someone on a list I’m on said, no one will ever tell you you aren’t eclectic enough!

I’ve thought about whether I need a plan for my four-year old this year, and have decided against it. I’ll do my best to do projects with him, but he will be unschooled for preschool! Unfortunately, he’s not interested in listening to stories during the day (although it’s an important part of his bedtime routine). Next year is soon enough to see where he is with letters, and the year after we can do a little work on reading.

Today was the first day of school in our town, and although we’ve already started with AO, I still felt as though I was measuring up. The day has gone well. We’re on about week three of AO. Today I read a bird story from the Burgess book, P did a few pages of Singapore math, we did three pages of Tanglewood Education Really Reading (33 page phonics program from Tanglewood Education). He did some writing on his own, so I didn’t add handwriting. We made play dough (mostly with the younger two, but P helped, too). He and his four-year old brother had a great time making a fort in the rain. He also did some sort of craft project that I was completely uninvolved in. Add some computer and TV, some other playing, and that’s been our day. I’m pretty happy with it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Using a PDA to organize homemaking

This is very domestic, but it's what I've been working on lately. I actually wrote this in 2003.

So far I've found one product that meets some of my needs -- that's HandyShopper, which works great for shopping lists and other lists. So far I've used it for a packing list, a running wish list (with categories like bedroom, kitchen, and people's names) and a list of books to buy or borrow. For those applications the ability to store prices is useful. In my opinion hs is good for lists that you want to categorize, and keep prices for. And it's fabulous for shopping lists. I imagine that other shopping list apps are comparable.

I haven't yet found a way that I'm happy with to keep track of housework. I'd like an application that reminded me of daily, weekly,monthly, one-time, and occasional tasks, and allows me to choose whether to record the date the task was completed. For instance I don't need to know when I did morning dishes, but I might want to know I flipped the mattress (and which way it was flipped, too). I'm experimenting with Redo, and somewhere I saw a reference to an application that puts completed todo items into datebook, but I can't remember what it was. It's entirely possible that Datebk5 has this and I'm missing it.

Another thing I'd like to do is menu planning. I'm a little rough on my planning, but it works for me. I plan meals without firm days, so at the very least I'd like an application where it's easy to change the date for a meal. I'd really like to be able to store lists of dishes and apply them to days. Ideally, I would also keep easily updateable lists of meals in the freezer --and as long as we're at it, why not a total freezer inventory.

Another thing I'd like to be able to do is review our finances on my PDA. At $40 Pocket Quicken is a bit steep, but the ability to sync with Quicken is undeniably a plus. I'm still poking around to see what's out there.

A little later . . .
I came up with a solution I think will work for me for housework. I'm using a combination of Diddlebug, Redo with the Todo list, and Datebk5. For chores for which I want to record completion dates in the calendar, I use db5 floating and repeating events. I like that I have the choice of scheduling a chore for the same day every week, or a certain amount of time after I actually complete it and mark it as complete. I use Redo with the Todo list to add chores to the Todo list that I like to be reminded of and be able to check them off when they're done,but that don't need to be stored in the calendar. Redo adds items to the list on the day that they're due. I use Diddlebug for popup reminders that I neither check off nor store in the calendar. My What's for Dinner reminder is a repeating reminder in Diddlebug. I also like Diddlebug as a timer for chores or whatever.
I'm still looking for a menu planning solution. A db5 solution would be fine. I know that some people don't like to clutter up their calendar, but I think it works better for me to have everything in one place. If I figure out filters and whatever other features, I can probably have views that focus what's listed. I wish I could find a version of the db5 manual that I could put on my PDA.

More than time slots I need categories for each day --say for chores, meals, and appointments. With my kids being 1 and 3 we rarely have more than 1 or 2 appointments in a day.

The other big feature that I could use is the ability to store lists and add them to the calendar at will. I could store chore lists, clients who may need work done, and menus in this way. I'm going to look into using the db5 and address integration this way, but it seems a shame to clutter up my address book with other types of entries. I may end up using handyshopper for menu planning. It is a good app to hold lists of things that may or may not be needed right now. Too bad it doesn't integrate with db.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Planning, To Dos, etc.

I'm messing around this week with way to keep on task. I've been using my PDA for a couple of years, but I'm off and on with it -- as I might be with any solution, to tell the truth. I'm on my third Sony Clie SJ20 -- an affordable solution at about $50 used/reconditioned/whatever. I have one with a cracked screen, one that won't charge, and one with a worn out digitizer. So I moved a good battery into the one that wouldn't charge, and I'm using that for the time being. I'm also eyeing these.

I've been using DateBk5 as my planner. I use it more for to dos than for scheduling. But I don't love the way it handles repeating tasks. Somehow, they are set to repeat, but when I check the repeat status of a repeating item, it says None. I don't get that. Maybe only the initial item stores the repeat info. I'm evaluating Life Balance right now, but I'm coming to the conclusion that it isn't close enough to what I want -- especially for the price. I'm not sure that the contexts idea works for me -- I don't really have different contexts. I mostly do my kids and the house, and I fit in my hobbies when I can find an opportunity. And my work is usually one thing at a time, not projects with many steps plus phone calls on the side. And I'm not crazy about the mixed up to do list -- too fiddly to get it in an order that actually makes sense to me. But I do really like the outline approach -- I like it a lot, and I wish I could have my To Do list at the top of Datebk5 in outline form that I could expand and collapse. I would probably use top categories of Errands, Chores, Projects, Money, Hobbies, and Homeschooling. I would like to be able to list chores in outline mode -- sometimes I do just fine with housework -- other times I need a reminder (what do I do each morning? each week?). A collapsible outline would be great. So I may look at outline software for my pda like Bonsai and Arranger. Note Studio has some GTD (Getting Things Done) fans, but I don't get it at all. And it's tempting to spend time messing and evaluating rather than actually doing the things on my To Do list!

I have the following categories of things I like to remind myself to do: chores (repeating), calendar items (some repeating, some not), projects, ongoing goals/projects, and homeschooling topics. What works well for all but chores is a sheet of paper in landscape mode. The top has the days of the week listed, with a column for each day split into three parts (morning, afternoon, and evening). Into that I put appointments. At the bottom of the page I have three columns for things I'm working on for the week: Projects (like chapters I need to revise, items I want to sew, errands I need to run), ongoing goals that require some thought (potty training, evaluating financial newsletters/memberships, gathering things to sell at a yard sale), and topics that seem to be of interest to my kids (or that I want to introduce to them). I very much like planning for a week, and the result is a manageable piece of paper with goals that seem doable. And I've noticed that I get a lot of what I put on that paper done within the week. I'm not sure that the approach makes a difference, though, or if I would have done everything anyway.

I struggle with how much of a record of what I've done I need to keep. I have a strong urge to keep a trail, but I know from experience that I rarely look at that. And I very seldom need it -- not for chores, that's for sure. Occasionally it's interesting as a way to remember where I was and the kind of things I was doing. So for now, I have a small datebook that I keep notes in -- kind of a keyword journal, since it's not big enough for full sentences. I particularly use it for homeschooling topics, activities we've done, etc., even though I don't need to report until next year. I think the urge to journal my life is about a need to feel that I'm really here doing something useful -- I'm not sure that journaling actually helps me achieve that goal. Hubris.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Making money?

I've been thinking lately about making some money. It feels like we need it, and in doing our taxes I realized that our income has fallen in the last few years because I've been working and earning less, while our expenditures have definitely risen due to the house and the kids. When I had one kid I worked a fair amount from home as a technical writer. With two kids I still worked some. I worked on a book about Microsoft Access when the kids were one and three. I had a nanny one day a week (who fabulously did all my laundry), and a sitter two afternoons a week, and worked during naps as well. That seemed to work. That was my last big project. I have another project coming online now (revising the same book).

To do technical writing work I need to have a sitter and some uninterrupted time. Although I've had regular teenage sitters for years, I don't have one right now, which turns out to be a problem. I get stressed looking for babysitting options. It's mostly about me -- the kids are almost always fine with whatever I find for them. This week they've been out two days, once with grandma (who I paid for sitting, for the first time ever) and once with a friend (I had her kids the next day).

I've also thought about doing work that I can do around my kids. I've made and sold a few mei tai baby carriers. This week I dyed about 70 playsilks for friends and acquaintances. One thing I've learned is that the prices people charge for both of these items are, in fact, about right. I can undercut them, sure, but I wouldn't want to for the long haul. I've never sold anything before, and there's a lot involved in finding the seller and following through with the deal, not to mention having any necessary documentation or whatever is needed. I've also been thinking about what it would be like to do baby care for someone who was working part-time, and how much I could expect to get for that (and if I could ask for payment in cash).

My ideal job is technical writing (or editing), at my fair but relatively modest consulting rate for about five hours a week. Seriously. But finding that amount of work is somewhat challenging! Ah well, put it out there, and who know what will happen . . . .

Friday, March 31, 2006

Birthday traditions

My two youngest had birthday’s this month. My second son turned four at the beginning of the month, and my baby turned two last week. For Evan’s birthday I took the older two boys “cellar shopping” – that is, we went into the cellar to look at all the toys down there to find some things to give Evan for his birthday. It was, as far as I’m concerned, hugely successful. The older boys got a chance to be more active in gift giving that usual, since I’m leery of letting them loose in a store only to shoot down everything they choose (“too expensive,” “too complicated,” etc.). They could choose pretty much anything. They could pick something for themselves, if they wanted to. And Evan was thrilled with his gifts, which he never remembered seeing before. There was nothing he needed, but not having presents, even for a two-year old, didn’t feel right to me, and the older kids wouldn’t have let me get away with that!

I struggle with birthday traditions – I never feel that I’m doing enough. Starting this year, we have a birthday scavenger hunt first thing in the morning, with a present or two along the way and at the end. Then the birthday child gets some special preferences during the day (these are not well defined!). And they get to pick what we have for dinner. We have a birthday outing near the birthday (the March birthdays were combined into one outing, to the Boston Children’s Museum). The party is multi-generational, with one set of grandparents, aunt, cousin, a local family we're friends with, and our neighbor. We don't include a lot of other children. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep excluding friends forever but it works for now. I'm totally stressed out by birthday parties, so I need to keep it simple!