Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: Love Walked In

I'm on a reading binge right now. I bought a copy of Love Walked In to tuck in my beach bag for our Blizzard Beach day at Disney World and it did not disappoint. (I have a Kindle but I wanted a paper back for the water park. Can't see all the sand doing a Kindle any good, plus it would be unattended while we all went on the water rides. Real books will never die!!!) It was so well crafted. Now that I'm writing more myself as well as reading several blogs just because of the quality of the writing, I'm paying more attention to that sort of thing.

The story follows two characters, one young pre teen and a 30 something woman, as they find each other and form a deep friendship. The woman dates the young girl's emotionally distant dad and winds up babysitting when the dad goes to London. The girl's mom has recently abandoned her due to the onset of mental illness and the child has no one to fall back on, except the dad's girlfriend. The child manages to create a family and support network for herself from this, following in the footsteps of the "plucky" heroines she admires in literature. I was charmed by both the story and the writing; it's a good summer read.

I'm currently reading two non-fiction books about going veg (Becoming Vegan and The New Becoming Vegetarian) and I've started the newest Stephanie Plum novel. My only problem is my best reading time is right before bed, but I've been passing out every night as soon as I lay down. When Stephanie Plum can't keep me awake, you know it's bad!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Disney

Having gone to Disney several times recently, and not just this past week as mentioned in the previous post, I do have a few more thoughts about food and accommodations to share.

First of all, where to stay. Disney has a range of accommodations on property, which is super convenient. You can park your car and use the Disney transportation system the entire time you are there. (Our local governments could take a clue or two from the Disney transportation system. It's the best mass transit in the state.) We might wind up driving to one or two places, especially if we have reservations for a show or a meal, but that's only because we don't manage our time well. (It does take time to get around using their buses, although on the upside the bus drivers don't get lost, which is easy to do since the park is so massive; it's like 40 bazillion acres or something.) (And yes, I speak from experience. We've been lost at Disney a few times now.) We've stayed at, let me see, Dixie Landings (which is now called something else since Dixie Landings wasn't exactly politically correct), The Grand Floridian, (a splurge for our 10th anniversary), Pop Century, All Star Sports, and All Star Music. All of the hotels are clean, well kept, and Disney-fied.

If the hotel is up to us the next time we go back and we decide to stay on property, our top choice is All Star Music. We like the family suites since they have a bedroom for the grown ups with a DOOR, a little kitchenette with a microwave, sink, and small refrigerator, two bathrooms, and pull out beds for the kids in the living room area, all at a fairly reasonable price. (I hate spending a ton of money on a hotel room when the plan is to be OUT of the hotel room as much as possible.) You don’t automatically get the bellman service and it can be a hike with the luggage from the car to the room, but we don’t mind that aspect; I never know how to tip a bellman anyway, and now that the kids are old enough to wheel their own luggage in we prefer to do it ourselves.

The downside of the budget hotels is the noise level; they are not sound insulated in the least. You hear everyone walking by, every door slam on your side of the building, maintenance workers mowing the lawn in the morning, EVERYTHING. As a very light sleeper, I have found a way to get around that little problem, however. I've loaded up my MP3 player with "sleepy music" (you could use nature sounds, meditative music, whatever you can sleep to) and found some ear buds that don't bother me to sleep with, and set it to repeat all night long. That blocks out the unwanted noises beautifully; problem solved.

I’ve had friends stay at time shares or condos or even rent houses while going to Disney. That’s something we might look into for the next time, although I’m not sure what we’ll do. That would give us a real kitchen so we would be able to feed ourselves, although that would mean cooking and cleaning; who wants to deal with that on vacation? It’s a dilemma; I’m not sure how we’ll want to handle things. I do know that this past week we got SICK to DEATH of eating out. I felt awful by the end, and it wasn’t all from the motion sickness. I also gained weight, which is super frustrating.

As I wrote in my previous post, we stayed at a non-Disney hotel for this visit. It was OK, although the downside to that is we couldn’t access the Disney transportation system. The hotel supposedly had busses to the parks, but when we asked about them they said the busses weren’t running at the time we wanted to go. Argh!! So we drove everywhere. We were able to explore the area around the outside of the Magic Kingdom, which was fun. I like exploring new places, and although I lived in Orlando for several years, I lived on the other side of town and hardly ever went over to the Disney area, plus it was a lifetime ago and everything has changed since then. We found some non-Disney restaurants close to the hotel, including a Sweet Tomatoes, so we got one healthy meal while we were there!

Which leads to the food:
A HUGE issue I have with Disney is the food, which is AWFUL pretty much all around. I am big on healthy eating, even on vacation, and that’s pretty much impossible at Disney World. Even the food at the upscale restaurants is loaded with fat. Now that we are vegetarian I don’t know that we would be able to eat on property at all, which may mean we won’t STAY on property anymore. I guess it’s the universal law of food-around-a-tourist-attraction-is-always-awful. There is constant turnover of customers so the eateries don’t have to worry about attracting repeat business, so therefore they don’t worry about the quality of the food.

Which leads me to a side rant. Now that we are veg and trying to stick with that even when we eat out, I am so frustrated that most of the vegetarian options we find on menus are LOADED WITH FAT, either in the form of high fat cheeses, butter, or oil. ??? What’s with that? I mean, vegetarians are frequently vegetarian because they care about their health, so why would the only vegetarian selections on a menu be so unhealthy? I could get healthier, lower fat/calorie food by eating lean meat or fish, back when I ate that kind of thing. And don’t get me started on the salads. Very few places offer good salads. A lot of the time the salad will consist of some wilted lettuce, a few sad tomato chunks, and maybe a couple of lame croutons smothered in a high fat dressing. Yuck. (Although I always order my dressing on the side, thank you very much.)

(Sorry for the digression; I’ve wanted to rant about that for a while now. Back to Disney.)

Other dining tips:
If you like healthy food, do not, for the love of Pete, eat at Downtown Disney’s Rainforest Café or T-Rex, which is run by the same company. (We haven’t eaten at T-Rex, but I can’t imagine the food is any different from Rainforest Cafe.) Rainforest Café used to be The Eldest’s favorite restaurant and she’d want to go there for every birthday or special occasion when she got to pick where to eat. BLECH!!! I told DH they must have a guy standing at the kitchen door with a bucket of oil and a ladle, and he dumps a ladle full on every plate as it goes out to the tables. The food is beyond awful, but the atmosphere is pretty cool. Do yourself a favor- possibly get a smoothie at the bar (they can’t put oil in that, but they are probably loaded with calories anyway) if you have to have something, walk through the restaurant and the store, then leave.

We ate at Raglan Road for lunch on Thursday. That’s also at Downtown Disney and the food was decent, although once again the veg selections were limited. They had a sandwich that was listed as a BLT with a fried egg; I got them to hold the B to make it vegetarian, so it was basically a fried egg sandwich. It was OK. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, ordered the mac and cheese. He hated it but that’s because he’s got no taste whatsoever; it was the best mac and cheese I’ve ever tried, ever. (I only ate a few bites; it was good, but I’d already eaten, and I’m not a big mac and cheese fan. The girls liked it too; one of them finished it off.) DH and the girls said their food was good but I don’t remember what they had. It was pricey, however. It was around $100.00 for the five of us to eat lunch, with The Youngest ordering off the kids’ menu and no appetizers or desserts. The Disney surcharge, I guess.

The whole gang ate at El Patron, a Mexican restaurant, for one meal while we were there. It was pretty good as far as the taste of the food, but once again not very healthful. I felt sick and bloated after the meal; yuck. (Although I made some poor choices; too many chips with the guacamole I ordered for an appetizer, and I should have eaten half of my quesadilla instead of the whole thing, plus I could’ve asked them to go easy on the cheese when I ordered, which I didn’t think about at the time.) The service was great although the food seemed to take forever, but it was worth the wait. (Taste wise.) This was NOT a Disney restaurant, but very close to where we were staying. I don’t know how it was price wise; my brother in law and his wife picked up the tab. (Many thanks for that, M & M!!)

But now I have to finish up, although there is more to say about the fine art of trying to eat healthfully at Disney World; feel free to e-mail me with any questions or suggestions.

Today is The Eldest’s 17th birthday, and thank goodness she didn’t pick Rainforest Café as our dining destination; we’re heading out to a much better restaurant to eat lunch!

Friday, June 25, 2010

We're Going to Disney World!

Actually, we WENT to Disney World this past week. We were there visiting family; when you live in Florida that happens a lot. Everyone (with kids, anyway, and sometimes without) eventually makes the trip to Disney so when that happens we get to visit relatives we might not see otherwise, at least not as often. I can vouch for Disney as a great place for family reunions, that's for sure. This is the third time we've been in the past year, every time with relatives. We met DH's cousin and his family last summer, we took my nephew a few months later, then this trip. So basically, if you have any Disney questions, feel free to ask since I could write a guide book.

No, not really on the guide book; there are people out there who go to Disney a lot more than we do! We weren't even able to go for the longest time; it would have been insane since The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, was too wild. We would have been stressed to the max trying to keep him safe there when he was younger. Plus there were too many rides he wouldn't be able to go on, which would have been frustrating to him. (All the height requirements, you know.) I think the best time to start taking kids to Disney is when they can stay with you and not wander off every 5 seconds, they are articulate enough to be able to communicate with a staff member if they get lost, and they meet the height requirements to ride all of the rides. (Unless your family isn't into roller coasters, but then, why else would you go to Disney World?)

We stayed at the Lake Buena Vista Best Western, which was OK. We had to change rooms when we first got there since they put us on a floor with a large tour group of very loud teens, but the room they moved us to was quiet. I also had an issue with the sheets but I went out to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought my own so I dealt with it. Their sheets were old and scratchy and didn't feel clean; ick. (But that was just me being high maintenance; everyone else said their sheets were fine.) Other than that the hotel was adequate for the price.

We had one room with two double beds so we were cramped; The Middle Child slept on an air mattress on the floor while The Eldest and The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, shared a double with a body pillow dividing up the bed. I got more gray hair when The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, fell out of bed the first morning! I was already up and looked over as he started to fall and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I thought he had smacked his face on the sharp corner of the bedside table but he either cleared it or the pillow, which went with him when he went over, cushioned it enough. Or both. I shoved a pillow in between the bed and the bedside table the next night; good thing since he fell out of bed again. I didn't have the heart stopping palpitations since I didn't see that one happen, but it did wake me up. He doesn't fall out of bed at home, at least I don't think he does, but since big sister hogged up more than her share of the bed he was perched on the edge all night. (The body pillow also took up a bit of space and double beds aren't large to begin with, so I can't blame it on her entirely.) Poor kid; next time we'll try to get a room with better sleeping arrangements for all of us.

The other big issue for me was the food. DH and I managed to stick to our vegetarian diet; the kids gave up and ate meat at almost every meal. The girls are pretty good about eating veg most of the time; they are really on board with it, but it was just too hard when we were eating out at unfamiliar restaurants with very few vegetarian options for every lunch and dinner. (I rented a refrigerator from the hotel and we ate breakfast in the room.) Thank goodness we haven't committed to going vegan; we would have starved! I did wind up gaining weight again; sigh. That part is hard to deal with, but it was impossible to find meals that were both vegetarian and low fat/low calorie/healthy. I ate a lot of fatty foods with a lot of oil/butter, eggs and cheese, way more than usual. Plus getting motion sickness on one of the virtual rides yesterday didn't help, but that's another story. (When I feel sick I tend to want to eat away the discomfort; I over-loaded on coke, which I never drink otherwise due to the calories, and crackers. And no, I don't do diet sodas; the chemical sweeteners give me a headache.)

There's a lot more to write about the trip but this is going to post now since I have to get ready for a dental appointment. TTFN!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Customer Service

Lousy customer service has been the ruin of many a company over the history of companies, I am assuming. People complain about bad customer service left and right, but how often do we sing the praises of companies with good customer service? All too infrequently, I am guessing. I've recently been fortunate enough to encounter some really good examples of companies that care enough to hire great employees that then offer great customer service, and I'm naming names.

First of all, that cruise I took recently with Carnival. There were things I didn't like about it, but I have to say the customer service (with the exception of one photographer, who was, to be fair, only enforcing company policy) was exemplary. Our cabin porter was helpful, and had an air of warmth, competence, and caring about him. He was friendly and helpful but not intrusive. They also had some really nice people working at their guest services desk, and the towel girl who searched out and brought me a bottle opener when I was hanging out in her area went above and beyond. (I had a comfy deck chair looking out over the passing ocean, my plate full of chocolate covered strawberries, my bottle of chilled Pelligrino, and my Kindle and I was all set to R-E-L-A-X, but I couldn't get the *%&^$^%$ bottle open! She saved the day.)

Two additional encounters with good customer service occurred recently. I was an idiot and didn't pay my homeowner's insurance (the bill got buried under a pile of other paperwork and I forgot about it, like a total ditz), which I realized on a Saturday as we were heading out the door for a trip to visit relatives. I got on the phone first thing on Monday with my AAA agent and he arranged for a new policy for me over the phone. I needed some information from my bank to pay for it all, but of course all my checks and paperwork were back at home (who carries a check book anymore?), so I high tailed it over to the nearest Wachovia branch and they could not have been nicer. I got the info I needed quickly and cheerfully.

On a side note, I was nervous about my bank when Wells Fargo bought them out a while ago, during all the financial crisis kerfluffle, but as far as I know Wachovia and Wells Fargo weren't involved in all that shady mortgage crisis business at all. I could be wrong, but I don't believe they needed a bailout; I think they are pretty sound. (Correct me if you've heard differently, please.) The Huffington Post recommended pulling money out of the big banks that were involved in the crisis in favor of banking with small local institutions, but since I don't think Wachovia/Wells Fargo had a hand in it I've stuck with them. I am happy I did given my personal insurance crisis! I would have been in an even bigger bind had I not been able to walk into a branch near where we were staying to get the information I needed.

Which brings me back to customer service. It's such an asset to any company when their employees treat their customers right. You only get that if the company treats their employees right, I firmly believe. It's that "corporate culture" thing. If management treats employees like dirt, then the employees will treat the customers they encounter like dirt. What incentive do they have to do better? So I am really impressed with the companies I've interacted with recently for hiring great folks, and for those great folks for treating me so nicely. It's so reassuring to have a positive encounter, even when you are dealing with a problem, and feel like you've worked with someone to come to a satisfactory solution.

So many thanks to Song at AAA, who wrote up my insurance policy and was so sweet about it even though I was pressuring him to hurry up due to the circumstances (on a trip with people waiting for me to get done so we could continue with the family's agenda), to the lovely young woman at Wachovia who got me the information I needed to pay for said insurance, to the porter, the towel girl, and the guest service people on the Carnival Imagination, and to all the unsung heroes of customer service out there in the world. I appreciate it when we can make a connection, however brief, and both walk away saying "gee, what a nice person".

Disclaimer: The above mentioned companies have not compensated me in any way for my statements. I've done business with them the same way anyone else would. I don't own their stock or anything else of that nature.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Facebook Etiquette

I have some "friends" on Facebook that I know from high school and I'm wondering about the etiquette involved. I haven't seen them since high school; I didn't maintain any kind of contact with them; in fact, I didn't even know them all that well back then. One guy was in my homeroom class and band with me. I remember being fond of him and his twin sister, but I never spent any time with them outside of the school day. I friended him on a whim. He's friends with some other people from high school and one of them friended me, which is really odd because I barely remember her. I remember her name since it's a little unusual, but I don't remember her. (And let me admit right here, right now, that I have a TERRIBLE memory. We could've been best friends for all I know, so I feel terribly guilty for not remembering her.) He doesn't post much on FB but she posts on occasion. When we became FB friends there wasn't even any special messages; I just sent the one request and accepted the other.

Which leads to.... what??? When they post something I don't know how to respond at all. It feels so weird and awkward. I think I've done the random "like" but I haven't had the nerve to actually comment. What would I say anyway? Do I just jump in, or do I say "hey, I remember you", when I really don't, or what?

It's a dilemma!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Carnival "Imagination" Cruise to Nassau

I was a chaperone this weekend for The Eldest's Girl Scout troop for a cruise on the Carnival ship "Imagination" to Nassau in the Bahamas. What an experience! The kids were great. There was a little bit of drama but it was dealt with and everyone moved on, at least as far as I was able to tell. That part, being with the kids, was wonderful and a special memory I'll carry with me forever. The cruise itself... not so great.

There are some good things to say. A majority of the staff members were terrific- warm, friendly, and very helpful. There were a few, however, who were downright rude and snippy; sheese. The boat was older with outdated decor but it seemed well maintained. There were people cleaning constantly. Our room was spotless; they came in twice every day and cleaned up. They made the beds, replaced the towels, and emptied trash in the morning, then turned down the beds, left chocolate mints, and emptied the trash at night. (I'm sure they did other cleaning type things as well, that was just what stood out to me.) The cabin was well designed but it made me feel very uncomfortable to be in a cabin with only one exit. (We were in an interior room.) The mattresses were comfortable and the comforters were clean and fluffy. (I love me some fluffy comforters.) I actually slept, even on the first night, which is unusual because I almost never, ever, ever sleep on the first night in a strange bed. A miracle! (Thanks to my MP3 player, loaded up with sleepy music to block the noises from the corridor outside the room.)

Now for the negatives. The food was HORRIBLE!!!! I don't know what everyone is thinking when they say "cruise ship food is so wonderful" since that certainly wasn't my experience. They had very few vegetarian options on their menus and those they did offer mostly included eggs or dairy. (Vegans would starve on that boat.) They had a stir fry station that didn't have tofu. The salad bar was lame, lame, lame, but thank goodness there were kidney beans; I would have been seriously hurting without them. Those beans were my main source of protein for most of the cruise! They put out fresh fruit but it was mostly inedible. (Except the pineapple; I ate a lot of pineapple.) I really wanted to stick with healthy vegetarian options but to stay vegetarian AND healthy wasn't happening; it was definitely either/or. I also wanted to maintain my "5:00 snack" schedule but that wasn't happening, either; 5:00 is one of those in between times. Lunch is over and dinner isn't ready yet. I could get pizza or ice cream at 5:00, but I wanted SOMETHING HEALTHY. (Pizza and ice cream were available around the clock; I didn’t indulge.) I finally found the chocolate covered strawberries; they saved my 5:00 snack on the final day, but they weren't exactly a low cal choice, and they also were not included in the meal plan and cost extra. Oh, boy, did they cost extra!

Then there was the water situation. I drink seltzer water almost exclusively. Not available, at least not out of the complimentary soda dispensers in the cafeteria. Nope. I had to pay a small fortune for Pelligrino, once I found it. It took me a day and a half to find my water (at the same place where they sold the strawberries) but I was happy it was at least available.

As to the ship shops (say that 10 times real fast) I found the merchandise to be disappointing. With that many people on board they need something along the lines of a Walgreens, at least on a small scale. I was desperate for some toiletries I forgot to pack but they only had one small section of one shop for that type of item. With no access to outside stores, I was stuck.

Then the entertainment. I read over the schedules every day but none of the entertainment options appealed to me. There were shows and so forth but I didn't bother, so I can't speak to how good or bad they were. I did like the dining room "show" when the wait staff would all dance to whatever song they chose to play; that was fun. There were some lectures that looked interesting in the fitness center but I only found a listing for those on the first day, after they were over, of course. I was content with lounging around with my Kindle and not participating in the entertainment options, though, so that was neither good nor bad. I was disappointed that there were no quiet areas with comfy lounge chairs to go read and watch the ocean go by. The closest I found was at the very back of the ship, but they were still blaring music in that area. At least it was a little less crowded.

And speaking of the crowds, oh, my stars. I DETEST crowds but people were everywhere! There were long lines for everything and the too-small pool was packed every time I walked by. (I never put on my bathing suit; I wasn’t interested in that mess at all.) I fussed about it a couple of times and one of the girls in our group told me other ships don’t feel as crowded as that one did. (She’s a veteran cruiser.) I’m too introverted to cruise, I think.

Last but not least, their photo policies really annoyed me. I know they are trying anything and everything to part you from your money, but sometimes businesses get a little too carried away. One of their photographers set up our kids for a photo and I snapped a picture with my digital when she was almost done. You would have thought I was shoplifting or something the way she reacted! She informed me that taking my own photos was not allowed and said I had to delete the picture from my camera. I wasn’t using my regular camera and didn’t know how to delete on that particular camera so she took it from me and did it herself. (With my OK; I wasn’t going to fight with her about it since I didn’t want to get tossed overboard or anything.) Now, while she wasn’t outright rude, and I understand that she was doing her job, I felt thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated. (The Eldest told me later there were signs that you couldn’t take pictures of the pictures, but I missed them. I wasn’t intentionally breaking the rules and fully planned on buying the photo from the ship.) There was absolutely no warmth or understanding or kindness from her about it at all. Brusque, businesslike, and judgmental; yuck.

I’m used to Disney. Their photographers will take the photo-pass picture that you can purchase, but they’ll also let you hand them your camera and take a picture for you. Then they’ll sell you a CD with the copyright, at a huge cost, so you can get reprints of the pictures they take if you want them later on. Of course, they have a wonderful website with special Disney borders that are absolute must haves, so they make their chunk of change without upsetting anyone. (You can even upload pictures from your own camera onto said website and get the special borders, which we did. Our Christmas cards last year were from the Disney photo pass web site.) As pricey as it is, I love the Disney photo pass system and that’s what I’m used to, so the Carnival photo policies really pissed me off.

So, to sum up, I won’t be cruising Carnival again if I can help it. I was saying I’d never cruise again at all, but one of the kids (the veteran cruiser) and one of the other chaperones (who has worked for several other cruise lines) said not to judge by that experience. My fellow chaperone summed it up nicely when she said “Carnival is the Wal-Mart of the cruise industry”. There’s a time when Wal Mart is appropriate, like when Girl Scout cookies are paying for the cruise and it’s about being together more than the cruise experience itself, and there’s a time when you want Macy’s. Next time I cruise, if there is a next time, I definitely want Macy’s.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Reading Philosophy

Homeschooling my kids is an educational opportunity for me. As a former teacher by profession, going about it by taking post graduation classes for certification, (I was a psychology major) I went about it backwards. I didn’t get the full four year teaching degree indoctrination so I have a few unique ideas about teaching anyway. I was also lucky enough to get in on the tail end of the whole language movement which is now horribly out of fashion. My professor for the reading classes I took was an ardent advocate for whole language methods. She was someone I admired and respected, so I fell in line with her philosophies. There were a lot of misunderstandings as to what whole language was back in the day, but the way she taught it made so much sense. The basic philosophy behind whole language is to teach learning the same way you teach talking, with whole words. You teach your child to talk by TALKING to them. You don’t teach sounds first, then put the sounds together at some later date when they master the sounds. Reading should be the same way. Start out with stories that make sense yet are easy for the beginning reader to grasp. Enrich the environment with words; label everything. Get the children writing through language experience stories, where they dictate to the teacher. If a child happens to need phonics, and some do, then emphasize the consonants over the vowels. It just makes so much sense. I think things went wrong in the schools when whole language was rolled out because the “old guard” teachers didn’t want change, didn’t want to learn new methodology, and didn’t understand how to go about implementing whole language strategies. They resisted so the kids didn’t learn. There was a huge uproar about it, and so whole language was ripped apart and demonized as a total failure. Back to phonics.

But phonics doesn’t work for every child. There are many children who don’t hear the sounds as distinctly, kids with poor auditory discrimination. I have poor auditory discrimination; I have a lot of difficulty understanding people when I can’t see them talking. (Which is probably why I’m an e-mail person and not a phone person. I have two friends in particular who call me occasionally and go on and on, but I’m only getting about half of what they say. It’s so frustrating!! I WANT to understand, but if I stopped them every time I missed something we’d both go crazy.) We ran into that with The Eldest when she was learning to read. DH tried to work with her and used the “sound it out” tactic; it was fail all the way. She just couldn’t get it, and I think it really hampered her progress. As a whole language advocate I fussed at him when he wanted her to sound things out and he could see her frustration with it so he came around. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, is also unable to sound out words.

Which leads to my next rant about learning to read. Kids learn to read when they are ready. The Eldest didn’t learn to read until she was in the third grade, for instance. She caught on and went berserk with it- she LOVES to read. She reads constantly. (When she isn’t playing her on line games, of course. But even those involve reading since she likes the role playing games the best.) She is well above grade level with her comprehension and vocabulary now. The Middle Child learned to read on the standard time table- five or six. I couldn’t stop her from reading; she also loves it and would have learned using any philosophy you wanted to throw at her. Now we’re working with The Youngest, aka The Wild Child. He’ll be eight in July and he’s not reading yet but he is on the brink; he’s so close! We’ve had some break throughs so I know it’s only a matter of a little more time. I’m so thankful that we are homeschooling him. Had he been in the public schools he would have been identified for not reading yet. He would have been tested and labeled and placed in special classes, where he would have been made to feel stupid. (Not that the classes are labeled as such, but the kids know.) He would have been put into a situation where he was made to feel bad about himself as a learner, inadequate somehow. I taught emotionally handicapped kids when I worked in the public schools and had several boys who couldn’t read in my second/third grade classroom. I worked with them and they GOT it over the course of the time I had them. Combining that experience with seeing my own kids and how they learned to read has affected how I feel about reading and timetables. The emphasis on early reading in the public schools does the children like those students, The Eldest, and The Wild Child a huge disservice. I can understand, though; teachers can’t go around reading to the kids individually so they need them to be able to read on their own at a young age. They have to be able to read directions, assignments, and other information in order to be successful in a classroom full of kids. They have to be able to write to convey what they know back to the teacher, who can’t sit there at give oral quizzes to however many kids she has in her classroom. So the kids who just aren’t ready yet get moved out into “special” classes.

But would we put a kid who walked at 20 months instead of 12 months in special classes? Would we put a kid who potty trains at three instead of two in special classes? How about the kid who is a late talker? We get it that kids have their own timetables for things when they are babies and toddlers. Does that somehow go away when they hit school age? Unless there is truly a developmental disability of some sort, kids who walk late or talk late or potty train late still get it; they learn to walk and they learn to talk and go to the bathroom and by the time they are a little older you can’t tell when each child reached those milestones. Based on my experiences, I believe there are kids who learn to read later than others because that’s who they are. Those kids are just on a different timetable and it is WRONG to label them and treat them the way they are treated in the public schools. I admit that I have moments of doubt and panic about The Wild Child since he isn’t reading yet, but when I calm down, take a step back, and think about it I pull it together. He’ll get there, I just have to have faith.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This is SO COOL!!!

I stumbled across this great web site called Chore Wars today. It's designed like one of the role playing games where you have these mystical characters who go around earning experience points and game items for... DOING THEIR HOUSEHOLD CHORES!!! I love it, love it, love it. The Middle Child was pretty quick to catch on, though; I was signing her up and having her pick out her character details when she said "I don't like this game, Mommy". But then she got to enter one of the chores she's completed recently and her character had an adventure- she fought a sprite! That's all it took- she was hooked. The Middle Child and The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, have been working their little tushies off around the house so they can earn more points. I love it!