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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

 

We Love Paul

He's my kids' favorite Beatle (and mine too), and he has an amazing new CD, Memory Almost Full, coming out next week.

Here's Paul McCartney's new video, for a song that should have your kids dancing around the room. Watch for the cameos by Mackenzie Crook and Natalie Portman.



 

Law of the Kitchen

I've learned something quite valuable over the years.

The amount of time and thought I put into a meal is inversely proportional to the amount of enjoyment my children receive from the meal.

If I serve cheese and crackers found at the last minute in the back of the pantry, I hear this: "Hooray for Daddy!"

But if I dare to slave all day on a fresh-from-scratch Boeuf Bourguignon, I'm most likely to hear this: "Yuck. Can't we have cheese and crackers?"


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

 

How I Learned My Lesson

It's been three days since we finished our first year of homeschool, and I'm in decompression mode. There's no end to the chores and projects around our house, but before I get myself prepared for all of that I thought I'd answer some questions about my experience with homeschooling my third grade son.

"I was just wondering how difficult it is for you to teach a subject that you aren't entirely comfortable 'teaching'. Not something you disagree with but perhaps something you still have things to learn about as well?"

At no point did I feel uncomfortable with any subject this year. It is third grade after all. There are things I've forgotten, but nothing that I didn't understand with a little refresher. For example, when we studied light and how the human eye works, I already knew what each part of the eye did. The cornea, iris, pupil, lens, retina, optic nerve. But I'd forgotten the function of the cones and rods. No problem, I just learned it right along with my son.

The curriculum we use, from K12, gives parents plenty of material to review before sitting down with their children. Personally, I didn't make much use of the teacher's manuals simply because I didn't need that much preparation.

Every night I would review the lessons for the next day so I could think about how to present them to my son. Also, I would think about where to teach a particular lesson, as math seemed better suited for the kitchen table while spelling and grammar worked fine at his desk.

As my son gets older, and into difficult (for me) subjects like trigonometry and chemistry, he'll be relying less upon me and more on outside classes and materials, not to mention his own self-learning habits.

"Do you struggle with your child, expecting more when he is unwilling to want to learn?"

We had plenty of moments where he wasn't in a math mood. One of the most positive aspects of homeschooling is the flexibility it affords. So, rather than struggle pointlessly through a math lesson, we would simply come back to it after lunch. Or the next day. Even though we had a daily schedule, it certainly was not set in concrete. He's slowly learning to communicate with me when he's tired, or unable to focus on a subject, so we can adjust our lessons.

My expectations of him are simple: Do your best, focus on what's in front of you, and let me know if the lesson is moving too fast or too slow.

"How do you stay organized?"

Mainly, through the computer. Again, our K12 curriculum featured online scheduling, calendar, materials, and progress. I also use Google Calendar for keeping track of our day.

Another key to staying organized is having one central area for homeschooling. One corner of our family room is devoted to this, with desk, shelves, materials and computer all in the same place.

"Do you miss public school at all for your son?"

Several times throughout the year I asked my son this very question, and he always said, "No way." People always assume that he is missing out on the social aspect of public school, but they don't realize that he gets more than his fair share of that through sports, Scouts, community classes, friends, and the dozens of field trips he's been on with homeschool groups. In the past year he's learned more about dealing with kids of all ages than he had to in his three years of public school.

Basically, the positive aspects of homeschooling far outweigh the positive aspects of public school. For education, it's not even close and not really worth talking about. That's why anti-homeschoolers trot out the tired old socialization myth. Or maybe we should just call it what it is: a lie. They like to stereotype homeschoolers as timid loners, uncomfortable in social settings and unable to function in large groups of people. Hmmmm, that describes most of the kids in the public school classrooms!

The truth is that homeschoolers come in all shapes and sizes, just like in public school. Positive socialization starts at home. If the kids don't get it there, then they won't get it at all. If you want to talk about something the public schools do better, then negative socialization can be a bragging point for them. And who would miss that?


Monday, May 28, 2007

 

I Am A Rock



"Mommy, I think Daddy passed out after moving those big rocks. What should I do?"
"Take his picture. It will be funny."


Friday, May 25, 2007

 

A Long Time Ago...



Hard to believe it's been thirty years since Star Wars changed the movie business and popular culture forever.

I had little interest in movies when I was a kid. We didn't go to the theater very often. Cable TV and video players were still years away. We watched some TV, mostly cartoons, but with only five channels the choices were limited.

So, one day in June of 1977, my mom thought it would be fun to take us to this film that everyone was talking about. None of us had any expectations of what we were about to see.

Thirty years later, I still remember that day. It was a life-changing event. Three years after my brother's death, Star Wars brought me out of my funk and opened up whole new worlds of imagination and creativity. It made me love movies and story-telling, but mostly it helped me see the endless possibilities that the future held.

I may have seen Star Wars a hundred times over the past three decades, but it's that first viewing that I remember most... The way the desert winds of Tatooine howled through the side speakers, the gasp from the audience as the Millenium Falcon shot into hyperspace, the thrill I felt when Han Solo swooped down to the Death Star to save Luke. The experience of watching that movie for the first time is still vivid in my mind.

My kids love Star Wars too. To them, it's an exciting story filled with strange characters and far-off worlds. My son has Star Wars posters on his wall, and a huge toy figure collection on his shelves. It's all fun and games for him.

Tonight, on our Family Movie Night, we'll sit down to watch the original film one more time. We'll laugh and hiss and gasp in the right places, and it will be a fun time for everyone. But a little part of me will still marvel at the possibilities.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

 

Last Day

My son was walking on air today, so proud of himself for finishing school. I'm proud of him too, but nothing can match his own personal feelings of accomplishment.

He spent the afternoon planning his summer activities. So far he's decided upon riding his bike, hiking Mineral Ridge, helping me build a deck, writing poetry, and watching cartoons. He'll probably add to his list tomorrow.

I have things to do too. I see a giant pile of laundry with my name on it.

This weekend I'll wrap up our first year of homeschooling and answer a few questions that showed up in comments and email.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

 

For The Birds



Of all the birdhouse kits at the craft store, my son picked this one as an art project. It's for all those undiscriminating birds.


Monday, May 21, 2007

 

A Pirate's Life

The kids were playing pirates the other day...

SON: "C'mon, let's board the Spanish ship and steal their loot!"
DAUGHTER: "I don't want to be a pirate. They were bad guys."
SON: "No, we're privateers. We have permission from Queen Elizabeth, so it's okay."

This is a reflection of my son's studies of England's Elizabethan Age and, more likely, an increasing excitement for the opening of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie this week.

Oh yes, we'll be there opening weekend. With empty bladders, as the film is almost three hours long.

And let's not forget the new CBS reality series Pirate Master premiering next week.

Arrrr, 'tis good to be a pirate. Errr, I mean privateer.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

 

The Secret Homeschool

It's hard to believe we're down to our last week of homeschool. My son is so excited to be finishing that he's actually become quite the diligent little worker. We finish a lesson and he says, "Let's do another one!"

We have just four days left. That's about two weeks before the public school finishes. So those third graders get eleven days of extra learning to try and catch up. Gee, too bad my son is about two years ahead of them.

Yes, I'm feeling a bit smug and self-righteous about my son's education right now. But only briefly, I promise, because smug people set my teeth on edge. However, I can't help bragging just a bit about how far my son has advanced over the past year in terms of knowledge, ability, and common sense. I will happily take credit for it all, but most of his accomplishments are strictly the result of his own willingness to be homeschooled. Right from the start, he understood his role as student and my role as teacher. We had some rough patches, especially after the winter break, but we got through them thanks to the flexibility of our curriculum.

Honestly, if it had been a battle all year, then he'd be heading back to his old elementary school next fall. But it was a successful year for us both. He aced all of his state tests, learned how to write poetry and book reports, mastered his times tables, division, and fractions, studied ancient Greece and the Renaissance, experimented with solar energy, and so much more. It wasn't all about filling his head with stuff, but about teaching him to love learning.

I have another reason to feel smug for a day or two this week. Most of our friends and family did not support our decision to homeschool. Last spring, when we told people that we were going to do this, the reaction was almost uniformly negative. The worst comment came from my 92-year-old grandmother, who looked at me in horror and said, "Oh God, no!" as if I'd just announced that I was having my genitals pierced. Others gave us disapproving looks and the usual nonsense about socialization. For reasons I can't even fathom, people who are supposed to love and support us found it all but impossible to wish us well as we embarked on our new adventure.

So, for the past year I kept mostly quiet about our experience with teaching at home. It became our Secret Homeschool. Nobody ever asked about it, and I learned to just talk about other things. But this week maybe I won't be so tight-lipped about my son's accomplishments. He and I both deserve to brag a little. We started off wanting to do what was best for him, and it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

 

The Most Important Thing

This week has been one of those focusing events in our life, in mine anyway, that seems like a message from above saying "be still, watch your kids sleep quietly, and be reminded that this is truly the most important thing you'll do on this earth." I don't reflect on those times enough.

When you have a chance, read the rest of this emotional post from an Idaho dad who needs your thoughts and prayers right now. And then remind yourself about what's truly important in your own life.


Friday, May 18, 2007

 

Weekend Whatnot

Today is this blog's third birthday. It's still fun, so I'll keep doing it. I hope I'm not as boring now as I was back in May of 2004.

Are your kids collecting all the new state quarters? The US Mint has a very cool website just for kids, complete with games, history, trivia, and cartoons.

CBS has unveiled a new reality show to air this fall. It's called Kid Nation and will follow 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, as they live in a New Mexico ghost town without parental supervision and attempt to build a new society from scratch. They'll have to pass laws, choose leaders, and build an economy. It sounds interesting, but I have to question the kind of parents who would allow their young children to participate in this TV experiment.

Will wonders never cease? Two of my favorite 80's bands, Crowded House and Squeeze, have reformed and will be touring the US this summer.

If you'd like to take an online survey as part of the Blog Reader Project, click here. It takes about 10 minutes. Thanks!

Spring is a time for home improvement, and I have any number of construction projects to tackle over the next few months. We should all remember to be careful out there...



And finally, I had many requests for more information about our new backyard toy. We bought it at Costco. It's called the Bounce 'Round 4-in-1 Wave Ripper. We have high confidence in this company's products because we bought one of their little inflatable bounce houses five years ago when my son was a toddler. The kids have been merciless to that bouncer, but it's held up perfectly through the years. Here's a photo of the new water slide set up in our backyard. Yes, it's big, and very heavy, but loads of fun.



Thursday, May 17, 2007

 

Going To Hell

Speaking of road trips, we took one last week with a group of homeschooling families. It was an exciting jet boat ride down the Snake River into one of the deepest gorges in North America, Hells Canyon.

I've been wanting to get a look at Hells Canyon for twenty years, so I was as excited as anyone to board the Beamers Tours jet boat in Clarkston, Washington, where Captain Dan waited to guide us down the river and through three states.





Right from the start we spotted osprey, eagles, antelope, bighorn sheep, and even some old guy panning for gold. The kids had a blast with Captain Dan swerving back and forth along the river at 45mph. Along the way he pointed out unusual geological formations, pioneer homesteads, and ancient petroglyphs that dated back at least 2,500 years.





The turnaround point for this half-day tour is Cache Creek Ranch, where we had an hour to lay in the grass and watch the kids play. The Forest Service runs the ranch now as an interpretive center. While we lazed around, Captain Dan was down at the river catching smallmouth bass right and left.





Even though this trip was just a taste of what the canyon has to offer, the kids absolutely loved it. They had no idea that just a few hours south of where they live is such a massive, and totally unique, wilderness area. There's so much more to see and explore. I'm definitely marking Hells Canyon down on my list of places to which we'll return.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

 

Splashdown!



It's been warm enough lately to set up the kids' new water slide, an early birthday present for the both of them.

Why didn't they have stuff like this when I was a kid?!


 

Road Trip Season

The approach of summer means it's time to shake off the cabin fever, clean out the cooler, and hit the road for travels both near and far.

It's road trip season!

Every spring I start planning a dozen or more trips around my wife's summer schedule, which is pretty much set in stone by March. If something comes up at the last minute, well, too bad. We'll be missing my brother-in-law's wedding next month. That's what happens when you only give us five week's notice.

In the spring I also start looking at new gear for our trips. Like any good dad, I'm attracted to all the gadgets and gizmos that hold the promise of easier travels.

Recently I discovered a great online store that specializes in family travel gear. In fact, it's actually called Family Travel Gear. They're a family-run business, based in Colorado, that believes in high-quality, reasonably-priced products. Basically, it's a very cool place to browse for road trip essentials.

We picked up one very helpful item for my daughter -- the Snack and Play Travel Tray is a completely padded lap tray that buckles around the child so it's safe and secure. My daughter loved it for the simple reason that she likes to draw and this tray gives her a sturdy flat area to spread out her books and papers. I highly recommend this product!

I'm eyeing a couple of other items on their site, such as the Whale Beach Bag and the Trashstand Floor Litter Bag. Those would both definitely come in handy this summer.

Anyway, check the store out. Maybe you'll find something to make your road trip more fun (and take your mind off the high price of gas).

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Monday, May 14, 2007

 

Another Meme

My most favorite Western Washington journalist, Sam, tagged me for another meme.

This time it's 7 Random Facts/Habits About Me:

1. I have webbed toes.

2. My first college job was as a story editor with NBC. Remember that Knight Rider episode where Kitt and Michael join the circus? Sorry about that.

3. Music is my drug.

4. In the summer of 1977, my mom took us to see The Treasures of Tutankhamun when it toured the US. I remember standing and staring at Tut's death mask for what seemed like hours. Most amazing man-made object I've ever seen.

5. I have an unconditional love for my children.

6. In 1986, I produced and directed a TV sitcom pilot. It's currently under lock and key. Maybe someday I'll put it up on YouTube for everyone to make fun of.

7. I didn't start talking until I was four, and now I can't stop.

I'm not going to tag anyone specifically. If you feel like doing this, go ahead and have fun with it.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

 

My Big Boys



Maybe I should get them bunk beds.


 

Three Things Meme

The Hygiene Chronicles tagged me with this one:

Three Things That Scare Me: Black Widow spiders, E. Coli, Dick Cheney.

Three People Who Make Me Laugh: David Letterman, Bob Hope, George Carlin.

Three Things I Love: Chips 'n' salsa, my iPod, a good night's sleep.

Three Things I Hate: Hypocrites, rice pudding, cleaning the cat litterbox.

Three Things I Don’t Understand: NASCAR, why we're still in Iraq, men who can't figure out how to use birth control.

Three Things On My Desk: Kids' soccer pictures, moose lamp, Darth Goofy doll.

Three Things I’m Doing Right Now: Scanning old photos, building a rock path in the backyard, gathering stuff for a garage sale.

Three Things I Want To Do Before I Die: Spend a year in England, skydive, go into space.

Three Things I Can Do: Parent, teach, listen.

Three Things I Can't Do: Whistle, fall asleep in front of the TV, ignore my children.

Three Things I Think You Should Listen To: XTC, your intuition, your kids.

Three Things You Should Never Listen To: Politicians, rap music, in-laws.

Three Things I’d Like To Learn: To play guitar, to cook Chinese food, to weave.

Three Favorite Foods: Pizza, ice cream, eggs benedict.

Three Shows I Watched As A Kid: Sigmund and The Sea Monsters, Hawaii Five-O, Little House on the Prairie.

Three People I'm Tagging: Clare's Dad, Hann, and Daddy Forever.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

 

The Socialization Myth



Courtesy of Jason Holm


Friday, May 11, 2007

 

Buy A Vowel

I rarely turn on the TV before 9 o'clock, but tonight while folding laundry I flipped the set on to Wheel of Fortune.

One of the puzzles was STAY AT HOME DADS.

Made me feel kinda giddy. Thanks for the shout-out, Pat and Vanna!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

 

The Slow Lane

My son almost scored his first soccer goal in four seasons today.

Normally, he plays a defensive position. He's comfortable back there, waiting to stop the other team's offense. Over the years, it's become obvious that my son is a slow runner. Even at an all-out sprint, he's still ten steps behind most kids.

He's just not built for speed, and we've all adjusted to that. But his coach feels, as do I, that it's healthy for the kids to play all positions. Today was my son's first time at forward. And I'm proud to say he gave it his best effort. That's all I've ever asked of my kids.

While he was on the field, doing his very best, a funny thing happened. He found himself with the ball, heading toward the goal, with nobody between him and the goalie. After four years, he finally had a chance to score. It was a good, strong kick, but the goalie intercepted it.

Still, it gave him a feeling of confidence that he can build upon. For the first time, he's recognizing that he can step outside his comfort zone to find new skills and abilities. I've told him for years that he can do anything he sets his mind to, regardless of how he measures up to other kids. I think he's starting to believe me.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

 

Grab Bag

Grab bags have always been cool.

One of my earliest memories is from the age of 4, reaching into a grab bag at the doctor's office and pulling out a little red and black plastic centipede. I can still remember the thrill of anticipation and the joy of discovery, as if I was Howard Carter entering Tutankhamun's tomb.

That memory came back to me last week when my son went for his state reading test. Afterwards, the teachers had a big grab bag the kids could reach into for a treat. The kids were so excited, they didn't care what they pulled out. My son was no exception. He loved what he got, but I had a different reaction.



Ummm, yeah. Who the heck puts a bottle of Ramada Inn mouthwash in a children's grab bag? Don't people think? Or did they just sweep through their medicine cabinet looking for goodies to give out? Like Bugs Bunny (and my son) says: "Yeesh!"

I had to laugh when I turned the bottle over and read the printing on the back: Keep out of reach of children. I guess some of those teachers failed their reading test!


Monday, May 07, 2007

 

Hovercraft

I am not a hovercraft.

Some people might think so, because I do watch my children closely when we're at the park or the store.

But when we're at home I give my kids a lot of space. They're free to roam the entire house and backyard, to explore and imagine on their own without interference from me.

That's one of the reasons why I've worked so hard to make our home a safe and creative place. I've thought about this a lot lately as we re-discover our backyard after the long winter. There are several landscaping projects, started last summer, that I'm in a hurry to finish. It's a point of pride with me that I've made the kind of yard that kids want to spend time in. There's so much to fuel the imagination: sandbox, swingset, fort, garden, meandering path, lawn, fountain... lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

One of the worst things my kids can say to me is, "I'm bored." In fact, they've already learned never to say that, or even hint at it, because then they get The Lecture.

And worse, they might turn me into a hovercraft, and I think they realize it's not always a good thing for them to have their dad controlling every activity. Even at the ages of 8 and 5, my kids have discovered the high value of independence and decision-making.

Giving your kids the right amount of freedom at the appropriate age is a tricky thing. Too much too soon can spell disaster. Too little too late can cripple an adult. It's a balancing act I hope I'm getting right.


Friday, May 04, 2007

 

A Place To Sit



A restful scene from a North Idaho farm.

Everyone needs a place to just sit and think. Where's yours?


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

 

Recipe For A Cold

How to catch a cold, in four easy steps:

1. Burn 4 chicken pot pies in the oven, filling your house with smoke. Breathe deeply.

2. Rototill your garden, stirring up a cloud of dust and organic material. Breathe deeply.

3. Wear shorts and a t-shirt to daughter's soccer game, then watch the temperature drop 20 degrees in 20 minutes. Shiver vigorously for an hour.

4. Listen to children bicker all afternoon, thus increasing your blood pressure and lowering your immune system.

Perform these steps in any order over the course of one day, then let sit over night, and by morning you will have one nasty little head cold. Spend the next two weeks trying to get over it.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

 

The Manly Hug



Last weekend we ventured down to my alma mater, the University of Idaho, to take in the spring football game. My kids are still quite restless while watching sports, but playing them is another matter.

A couple of hours before the scrimmage, my son had the entire field to himself. With a recently purchased genuine NCAA practice ball (for only $2!) in hand, he ran, passed, and kicked all over the place.

Ask him if he wants to play football, and he'll give you an emphatic "No!" He just wants to run and jump, and that makes me very happy.

Later that night, during the scrimmage, we were happy with laughter watching a group of frat dudes on the sidelines. Each time a new frat dude would come up to the group, they'd all give him the Manly Hug.

You know the Manly Hug, right? It's more than a handshake, but not quite an embrace.

My generation totally missed out on this maneuver. From what I could tell, you start out with a hand clasp like you're going to arm wrestle, then you pull your arm to your chest, thus drawing yourselves together, but keeping that all-important double arm width between you. At the same time, you carefully put your free arm around the other person's back, make a fist, and gently pound them between the shoulder blades. Then you quickly release and back away from the person, before anything more should happen. This can be followed by grunting, checking of cell phones, and discussion of home brews.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me feel old. Seriously, if you want to give a friend a hug, then give him a big ol' bear hug. Why goof it all up with the posturing?