Adiós y gracias, Señorita Jessie!

The biggest thing as of late is that Miss Jessie is leaving her regular weekly gig here at “the zoo.” She is taking a job at her church, which is a great thing for her both career-wise and spiritually.

Pajama Day @ CC community: See if you can spot the 3 Amigos.

But this change also fits into my plans. See, after much prayer and reflection, I had recently decided that I was finally ready to wean myself from Jessie’s help. My realization had nothing to do with her job performance.

Simply put, Miss Jessie is amazing, so it’d be daunting undertaking to find a better childcare professional. She is creative, giving, sweet, energetic, punctual, hard-working, honest and loving.

If you think back to when Jessie started in September 2011, the 3 Amigos ages 4 and under and Stephen was working long hours, which was why we wanted an extra set of hands in the first place.

Then Stephen took a job where he worked out of state four days a week. That was a grueling 11 months, and I honestly don’t think I could’ve survived (or at least, kept my sanity intact) without Jessie’s assistance during that challenging time.

Houston plays around with our kids’ 6-string electric guitar (minus two strings). Hey, at least our piano’s tuned now.

But now that the boys are more mature and independent, Stephen’s working a normal come-home-to-your-family-every-evening job, and I’m getting more confident and comfortable with homeschooling, the time has come for me to fully embrace my role as teacher, housekeeper, family planner and all-around domestic guru.

And isn’t it remarkable how God somehow enabled Jessie’s and my major plans to work in tandem together? The Lord has a cool way of doing that.

Be sure to check out the Shutterfly photo book I made for Jessie as thanks for her contribution to our family. Click the thumbnail image under “recent activity” and be sure to use the “single-page view” and “full-screen” options (found in the upper righthand corner of the photo book template).

A long time dream of mine, I finally get a photo of Zeke and his bros on the big red balls at Target.

FYI, since Stephen and I have never found the time to poke around and figure out how to upload video to our Word Press site (should be easy, but it’s not), I plan on adding videos of the kids to Shutterfly … coming soon!

Gabriel had his final basketball game last Saturday. It was actually supposed to be two make-up games back to back, but the first team didn’t show. And then only one kid from the second team was present.

To make the best of a lame situation, the boy’s two brothers, Houston and Zeke, and a couple other meandering kids were recruited to play what turned out to be the most fun and lively game of the season. Way to go, Wildcats and Warriors!

A proud Gabriel shows off his much-deserved trophy for a great season of basketball!

After the game, we met Christie and crew at a free winter carnival, hosted by one of the CC moms who runs a dance school with her husband. The school, which shares a space with a martial arts business, offered grappling, foam-sword fighting, a bounce house, crafts and lots of games. It was a blast!

Last week, the boys and I went on a CC field trip to see a saxophone quartet performance. The event was for young kids, so the musicians included lots of explanation about their instruments, the pieces of music they played and how they came to be professional saxophonists. The boys thought it was okay, but I was mesmerized.

After that, we headed to Miss Christie’s for an afternoon of doing cool volcano experiments, playing guitar and singing (practice for our upcoming family presentations at CC), and jumping on Asher and Jackson’s new trampoline. Good times.

An intense Houston makes his play-doh volcano erupt.

Speaking of music, we finally got our piano tuned on Monday. It was a hand-me-down a neighbor had given us about five years ago. Needless to say, the instrument was extremely out of tune, had a broken key and was in dire need of repair.

It sounds phenomenal, so it’s time to start looking into lessons for Houston, and then the twins when they’re a bit older. Jessie has been giving the boys informal lessons for a few weeks now and they’re enjoying it, so I’m hopeful they’ll take to piano and grow in their love of music.

Wednesdays have stunk lately. In fact, January is a major stinker, as has been the case for three years running. Luckily, we made it through the first month of the year none worse for the wear and hump day is looking a bit brighter these days.

The source of one of my biggest frustrations lately has been Houston’s negativity toward school. Having already tried the “it’s the law” approach (as mentioned in the last blog), I decided to try to establish a reason for learning.

Gabriel loves playing @ the water-current station @ the Natural Science Center.

I thought this would be a good approach, since strong-willed children often need to know “What’s the point?” of a task. So, Houston and I talked about the importance of education as a whole and how homeschooling is a vehicle for that.

We discussed how knowledge glorifies God’s greatness, helps people learn from the mistakes of past, gives us information for conversation, guides us to areas of interest future study, offers ideas for employment, teaches us about who we are and where we came from.

But most importantly, we said that learning is often fun. And when the material is particularly difficult, mastering it is all the sweeter and satisfying.

Another bone of contention for Houston was time. “School takes so long,” he would often say. So one day, I used a stop watch to time all the lessons, minus breaks for discipline, household stuff, meals, hygiene, potty breaks, etc.

Asher supervises Zeke in the volcanic eruption process.

To Houston’s surprise (and mine), our actual time schooling — which that day consisted of CC memory work, phonics, math, a science experiment and a little art — took just around two hours! Sure it took all morning and into the afternoon to piece it all together, but sometimes life gets in the way of life.

Since then, Houston’s attitude has improved, thankfully. And I don’t feel like the lamest slow-poke mom on the planet.

And just as we’re starting to hit our homeschool groove, I find out that Saxon Math (the curriculum I currently use) is going to be aligning with the federal government’s educational mandate, the Common Core State Standards. Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

Obviously, seizing power from the states, their local school boards and parents writ large isn’t something of which I’d approve. After all, even Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, admitted in 1977 that “national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”

Gabriel, Zeke, Asher & Houston recover from foam-sword fighting & eagerly await cage grappling.

Michelle Malkin has written extensively on the matter: Rotten to the Core: Part 1 and Part 2. She even has a feed about Common Core called Reader Feedback from the Frontlines.

But if you don’t buy Malkin’s arguments or any of the feedback she has received, maybe you’ll believe Kris Nielsen, a former North Carolina teacher used to defend Common Core. He even gave a presentation at his school in support of the mandate in order to ease parents’ concerns.

Since then, Nielsen has had a change of heart, which he wrote about on his blog, Middle Grades Mastery. Here are some highlights:

“The Common Core State Standards is a sham, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an instrument of devastation.” (Common Core) … “has one goal: to create common people. The accompanying standardized tests have one purpose: to create standardized people.

” … But more importantly, all of the skills (like creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration) … lead our students to be profound, critical and meaningful participants in a modern democracy. Some would argue that our days as a free country for the people and by the people are limited, and running out fast.

“If we continue to support the path that our nation’s educational system is on, we will speed up the end of our democracy. When students are forced to learn for the sake of a score and are denied the opportunity to think and reason and question and appreciate the world in which they live, they are all the more easy to control and deny basic rights.”

Playing w/ the guitar pick makes strumming all the more enjoyable for Gabriel.

And not only is one of my homeschool curriculums selling out, but then I hear about U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, implying that a law banning homeschooling would not violate the fundamental liberties of individual citizens. (Who wants to bet that they’ll be propagating such dangerous ideas in Common Core.)

“Freedom for the mind and spirit is as important as freedom for the body and spirit.” — Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association

If you have the time, please read more about Romeike v. Holder, the case that’s before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Whether you homeschool or not, certainly most common-sense people believe in school choice and the rights of parents — not government — to decide what’s best for their children.