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ABC Disorder

Here’s an analogy for you:

Dyslexia : sequential order :: like magnet forces : repel each other.

Every once in a while (less often, now that we are unschooling and aren’t fighting a formal school curriculum) I am reminded how much dyslexia affects The Naturalist. Her mind is fundamentally different from any type of sequential, linear, & ordered method that is so valued in school. My daughter thinks in the abstract…nonlinear, unsequential, and divergent. “Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos” by Lucy Jo Palladino is a great example of kids like this.

Today, she was playing Jumpstart World. It’s The Golfer’s game, but she loves playing it just because you can buy a pet and take care of it. To do that, you play a variety of ‘learning games’ and accomplish certain goals to make money (gems). This is one of the few learning software “based on national standards”, that my kids thoroughly enjoy. I mean, they really really love this game!

One of the games is something where you put 10 words in ABC Order. She called me over to help her and said, “Mom, this just isn’t working for me! I’m supposed to put these letters in order!” So I stopped to talk it out with her.

Me: “OK, what does the alphabet start with?”
Her: “A, B, and C.”
Me: “Then what?”
Her, after looking at the list: “R?”
Me: …
Me: “Uh, there are lots of letters between A and R”
Her: …
Me, trying to make it more general: “Let’s just sort through and sort words by if they come in the beginning or towards the end of the alphabet.”
Her: “OK. Ummmm, P is in the middle. And then W. W is before S, right?”
Me: …
Me: “Can you visualize the Alphabet marching in order, in your head?”
Her: “No, all the letters are just kind of dancing around in there.”
Me: “Alright then! That sounds fun! But to some people, the letters are lined up single file. Not dancing or floating around. They just sit there, being still, one right after the other.”
Her: “Well, that sounds boring!”

And indeed, it is. From what I’ve begun to understand about how The Naturalist’s mind works, the more boring the rest of the linear, sequential world seems. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to have an ABC Dance Party in your head? To her, it is as foreign to organize letters sequentially as it is for me to try to have them bouncing around in my head. Unfortunately, this wreaks havoc with any kind of expected basic function in school and life. Because if you think about it, sequential thinking is everywhere, not just the alphabet.

Counting and time are extremely linear. Spelling is a linear application of letters in a certain order. Skip counting, alphabetizing, days of the week, and organizing things are mine fields for her. Writing sentences is sequential, with capitalization, punctuation, and words coming in a specific order. The Naturalist, who knows what punctuation mark needs to be used, then generously sprinkles it all throughout the sentence since she’s not exactly sure where it belongs.

!it looks, something Like this!

Obviously, this gets to the very heart of what is accepted as ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’. When I say ‘dyslexia’, I know that 60% of people will think, “decreased intelligence”–especially if they see her word & sentence construction. But dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ. It’s just a difference in perception and output. Because her mind is untethered to a specific order, she is able to write her words flipped up and backwards. I’ll walk past and point out that she’s reading her book upside down, and she won’t have noticed because she’s able to read it from any direction. She’s the person I want to have around when there’s a problem, because she sees everything from her own unique perspective. Ronald Davis talks a lot about this in his book, “The Gift of Dyslexia“.

I can’t change her dyslexia. It doesn’t go away. It’s as much a part of her as her brown hair and infectious laugh. I may cringe when she, at 11 years old, says “A,B,C,R…” or when I read a sentence of hers that has no accurate spelling and punctuation… but I have to be careful about how I respond to her. Jonathan Mooney is my inspiration for dealing with this unique aspect of my daughter. My remediation, unlike so many programs out there, isn’t to try to make her think like everyone else, but to explain how other people see things and then help her live her life using her own specific (and abundant!) strengths and compensations.

Buh Bye Nebraska, Hellooooo Iowa. And South Dakota. And Minnesota.

For all of you who remember Nebraska as being flat…it hasn’t changed much.

Occasionally a haystack popped into view, which was a nice break from monotony. And fun to see. Around here, they have fancy schmancy haybaler machines to make the hay nice and symmetrically cubed…boring, if you ask me. Haystacks make me feel like grabbing a book and laying down in one, although I’m sure it would be scratchy and probably make my allergies go nuts. And really, what book would I choose? A brainy one? Or a quick read more suited for the beach. And if I got away long enough to read in a haystack, what would I do with my kids? Would they be running around me, or stashed away somewhere? This was my train of thought, anyways, for the 3 hours it took to get out of Nebraska. Haystacks, books, kids, and allergies.

By the time we got out of Nebraska, everyone was feeling a bit like this:

Which has nothing to do with the state, and everything to do with 7 kids strapped into a car for two consecutive 7 hour days.

As it turns out, when you head up I-29 into Iowa/South Dakota, the scenery doesn’t change all that much.

Whatever excitement was lacking with the view, we drove through a nice little thunderstorm that had some lively thunder and lightning going on. The kids enjoyed looking out at natures firework show and then BAMMO! CRACK! WHA-POW! A searing light came down from heaven and smacked the ground not 40 feet from where we were driving. I wasn’t even looking in the exact direction, but it was enough to sear my peripheral vision for a bit. There was a moment of silence (the first for the day!) and then lots of shrieking and yelling. “OH MY GOSH! Did you see that?! Did you see the sparks! Was that a lightning bolt?! That was the coolest thing I’ve EVER SEEN!” I know my picture doesn’t do it justice, but it goes to show you lightning can come from anywhere at anytime when it’s stormy out. That comforting thought has done wonders for The Golfer’s brontophobia.

Drive, drive, drive….and we finally make it to Big Stone Lake in western Minnesota. FINALLY! Our destination! It was late and dark, so all the kids could see was an unfamiliar cabin to sleep in—with lots of bugs and possible spiders all around. They were a bit cranky and freaked out.

But I knew what awaited them in the morning…frog catching, swimming, exploring, rope swinging, bell ringing, hot chocolate drinking, rocket launching, and all other manner of tomfoolery. I couldn’t wait to get everyone to sleep so we could wake up to a bright sunny day of NOT being cooped up in a minivan. (Not that I don’t L-O-V-E love my Honda Odyssey!)

More than any of that, I was looking forward to meeting up with the dock out into the lake. I’d perfected a nice ‘lounging around not doing anything’ pose when last there (2 years ago), and I was anxious to see if I could still manage it with The Sassy Princess running around. I was pretty sure I could at least try.

Nebraska along I-80, part two.

For the second day of our journey, and the final edge of Nebraska, I took all the girls in my car…my two plus my sister’s two…and mom took the 3 boys.

Hey, girls! Smile for the camera!

Nice to know S., the youngest elf in my sister’s brood, was listening. But seriously, girls! Is it too much to ask for one quick pic where everyone looks at the camera?

Apparently, it is. Whatever..they’re still cute.

We came across The Great Platte River Road Archway in Ft. Kearny and even though we had just barely started out on our drive, we stopped to see it. I’d driven by it (or, rather, under it) while on a Serendipity Bath trip to Chicago with my fellow soaper, Ashley. It’s an amazing sight to see a huge archway in Nebraska, built over I-80…but we didn’t have the luxury of stopping then. So, on this trip with so many enthusiastic kids packed in the car, we got out to explore.

We quickly learned why this huge expansive archway was built in the middle of Nebraska. To understand, you’ll have to think back to 6th grade US History, when they talked about all the trails that crisscrossed America in the early pioneer days. Some people were going to California, some to Oregon, some to Santa Fe, and still others to Utah. The significance of Ft. Kearny is that all these trails converged at this point, and then branched off in their different directions.

There were different markers along the outside of the building…Mormon Trail, Oregon Trail, California Trail, and even one for the Pony Express. Here is the Naturalist with her cousins. See why I call them elvish children? Aren’t they adorable?!

It’s a good thing we learned from the last night’s elevator incident and picked partners, because everyone scattered in fright when we walked through the front doors and met up with this wild dude brandishing guns, talkin’ real loud and lookin’ real dirty:

He’s Jim Baker, ex mountain man and guide on the Oregon Trail. He’s a real kick in the pants, and I enjoyed him. Interestingly, when our motley bunch of kids encountered someone even more wild than they were, they got REALLY quiet and good natured. Like 7 little angels.

Once you pay the ticket fee (worth it!) you ride up Nebraska’s second longest escalator and enter into a series of rooms that detail what life was like to journey on the trailways…first in pioneer groups, then in trains, and then in automobiles. It is a multimedia, multisensory experience that all the kids enjoyed. And remember, the ages span from 3-12, so I was pretty impressed with how it kept them all involved.

Some of the displays were sad and bittersweet, particularly since I have ancestors that walked along pushing handcarts on the Mormon Trail.

After the sights in the building, the kids ran through the “Trailblaze Maze” which I just read is the only maze between Chicago and Denver on I-80. So, there you go. We all got through it within 15 minutes, so it’s not too overwhelmingly large that you lose kids for hours. Which is always a concern when I take the kids to the gosh darn corn field mazes in October around here.

After this, we cruised up I-29 through Iowa and South Dakota…but I’ll have to save those events for another post. There’s just so much to post about! Almost being hit by lightning! Lewis and Clark! Finally getting to Big Stone Lake in Minnesota! So much to write, so little time.

The Sassy Princess just settled down for a nap after yelling out to me about every bug and beetle she found in and around her windows, so I’ll take this opportunity to actually shower before 3 in the afternoon and end this very educational post and save the rest for later.

Nebraska along I-80, part one.

I’ve recently returned from a roadtrip from Colorado to Minnesota and back. Along with me were my mom, my 3 kids, and my sister’s 4 elvish children. Ages of the kids: 12, 11, 8, 7, 6, 4, and 3. 2 minivans, 9 people, and many miles. 1 1/2 weeks. Wheeee!

I’ve realized something about myself. I love Americana. I know I love the history of America…it’s why my major was American Studies. But I’ve never come face to face with the kitchsy side of this country until driving along I-80. What a treasure trove of American specific popular culture. Because my mom and I were on a time table and only had a day to cross Nebraska, not to mention the logistical challenge of dragging 7 kids behind wherever we went, I wasn’t able to stop at everything. But I wish I could have! Did you know Kool-aid was invented in Nebraska? And there is a museum display honoring it?

The Fort Cody Trading Post is right off the freeway, and the kids were getting antsy, so we stopped. It looks so cool! It advertises a ‘Buffalo Bill Wild West Miniature Show’ for FREE, which is totally our budget.

Mom, the kids and I walked in to face this:

Apparently by “Trading Post” they mean “Huge Selection of Completely Craptacular Souvenirs That Are Overpriced And That Your Kids Will Whine About Until You Buy Everything For Them”. And THAT, my friends, is totally not our budget. If you can successfully manage to steer everyone through a wharehouse of stuff, (which took 25 minutes and lots of begging) then you will find the miniature show that starts up every 15 minutes.


This, we enjoyed. I can appreciate something that takes someone 12 years to complete. A vision, if you will, of recreating Buffalo Bill’s extravaganza out of tiny blocks of wood. How does one even stumble across that specific passion? We all had fun until it was time to herd everyone back out again.

At the end of the day we reached our hotel rooms in Grand Island and herded everyone out of the cars. Headcount!

“Seriously…does everyone have their buddy?! Hey! We forgot to assign buddies! How many kids do we have here! 13? Wait, that’s too many. Stop running around so fast, so I don’t double count you all. Get in the elevator and stand still! But don’t close the door, in case we’ve left someone in the lobby. I only see 5 in here…where are the other 3? As long as it’s my kids missing, I’m OK. But my sister will kill me if I misplace one of her kids on my first ever ‘cousin’s only’ trip without her! OMG, tomorrow we are SO doing the buddy thing!”

End day one. Everyone got up to the room without any mishaps and had sweet dreams of miniature cowboys, and giant Kool-Aid men. Next up: Leaving Nebraska and cruising up Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Wheeee!

Does a man’s home have to be a castle? Can it be a molehill, too?

While I get some photos organized, and some time to blog about the most amazing trip EVER that we just finished up, I’ll post about another exciting event going on in our lives.

It’s shocking. It’s bold. It’s daring. It’s totally opposite from what I would have done 3 years ago. It’s quite crazy. It might just put an end to my already thinly stretched sanity. But, it’s the right thing to do.

3 1/2 years ago, we moved to our house in Colorado from our house in Vegas. Our plan was to be anchored to a home that would work as a home base for everyone. We anticipated all the kids would be in public school for 7-8 hours a day in the upcoming years, which would leave me plenty of time to find a job and bring in a second income–something I haven’t done since having kids 11 years ago. We anticipated growing roots in this community and then staying here in this little rural town right beside a hip, urban city.

And then everything changed.

Taking The Naturalist out of school started a seizmic shift in our everyday lives. In the beginning, I thought homeschooling was about teaching a child what they were supposed to know. And to some, that is the extent of it. But to others, it becomes something more. It turns into a way of doing things…a philosophy of living and exploring. My role is less teacher and more facilitator, helping my kids discover a love of learning and understanding. And because we’re doing this all day and night together, it has better be an experience that all of us appreciate! I could never have anticipated the domino effect that beginning to homeschool would have on us…our eating, sleeping, and interacting.

So here we are in a house that I love, but not living the life I thought we would. We’re not anchored here like I anticipated–in fact, our travel is something I love most about unschooling. I don’t have all my kids at school, and so I am not bringing in another income–in fact, between classes, trips, materials, books, and everything else, I am spending a bit more that I did before. Don’t get me wrong…homeschooling does not need to put a financial burden on a family. However, I now have another category of spending in my budget that wasn’t there before and it takes a little reallocation to make it work.

Hubby and I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make sense to be in our wonderful, perfect, dream of a house. I love every bit of it’s craftsman style…I love the cherry wood floors, and the delightful details in the trim and molding. I love the sensible layout of rooms, and the high ceilings, and my really big closet. And the decadent jetted tub with mountain views. I love my front porch and my rose bushes that have grown so big in 3 years! I love our playroom and all the memories we’ve made here. But in the biggest leap of our new ‘lifestyle’, we’re putting our house up for sale.

Hubby and I would rather spend time and energy on our family, not on our house. We’re looking for something smaller, and closer to where hubby works. In short, a not so big house to accompany our not so big life.

The prospect of keeping the house in viewing condition for who knows how long….daunting. The thought of packing boxes and physically moving out…overwhelming. Simplifying our lives…priceless.

I really can’t believe we’re doing this, it’s amazing how much change can happen in a few short years, but here we go!

Pinehurst Recap

To paraphrase from ‘The Princess Bride’…let me tell you what happened on our NC trip. No, that will take to long. Let me summarize.

We showed up for the World Championship at Pinehurst, and were all thrilled by the signs welcoming the junior golfers into town and especially by the free ice cream at Coldstone!

The first thing the kids did was run out on the course in the backyard of our rental house. To The Golfer, it was paradise. Who am I kidding…it was heavenly to all of us!

The second thing we did was go to Pinehurst so The Golfer could see where they held the US Open and marvel at all the pictures of his heroes on the wall. We sat outside (in the humidity and heat!) to take in the view.

And what a view it is! The putting green in the foreground has hosted the players at the US Open. Tiger, Michelson, and so many others that The Golfer loves watching. It’s hallowed ground to him.

The Golfer did a lot of this:

And we all did a lot of this:

and a little of this:

while The Golfer did more of this:

There was laughter, tears, some blood, lots of sweat, and tons of fun. I was so proud of The Golfer, who really worked hard in the face of adversity.

I still have 394857934857 more pictures and lots more stories about the Golf Course The Golfer played on, Mid Pines. Or, as we like to call it, “The Course That Makes 7 Year Old Boys Cry”.

Believe it or not, we are leaving tomorrow for another 1 1/2 weeks–this time to go camping by a lake in Minnesota. I know, I know. My life is so hard.

And now you know the true reason for my unschooling. Traditional school curriculums were really putting a damper on our travels. While we were still in public school, I would have the same arguement with the Powers That Be (administration).
Me: “But I thought you would support our experiences outside of school! Don’t you want her to learn about a bigger life out there?”
Them: “If she misses two more days, we’ll have to take action.”
Me: “But she’s in kindergarten/First/Second grade! Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?!”
Them: “It’s the rules. You better have a doctor’s note next time.”
Me: …

And so, when I get back I’ll have 345897934857 more pictures and stories to tell. Internet will be scarce, but I’ll do my best to update!

Happy School Year!

I bet you were expecting something about our trip to Pinehurst? Maybe some pictures and a few stories? Well, I’m still trying to get through the massive amount of pictures, so until I do I’ll write about this…

We’ve been so busy having fun this summer, that I haven’t even realized that it’s getting down to crunch time for the vast majority of kids out there who are living it up in the next week or two before school starts. (That has to be the longest, unpunctuated sentence ever.) The Golfer and The Naturalist’s friends are mourning their final week of no school. Some of our homeschooling friends are ordering and organizing curriculum for the upcoming year. Back to school materials are being bought and sold at an amazing clip! Last year I was right in the mix, and freaking out just a bit about teaching two kids AND managing a toddler. I wondered if I should find a preschool to put her while I taught the older kids in the morning.

One thing led to another, and here we are unschooling. To many, that means I am part of the circus under the exibit “NOT TEACHING HER KIDS ANYTHING AT ALL!” but I know better. What it has meant to us is that learning is all the time, not just from 9-4 or 5 days a week. It means we never take a ‘spring break’ from learning or a ‘Christmas holiday’ from understanding things. What it means is that we did tons of ‘schooling’ on our summer vacation. So when people ask me when our school year is starting back up, I get kinda confused and answer back, “It never stopped!”.

I’m not anti curriculum, but I am pro child driven learning, and sometimes it takes a while for the child to find just the right thing to study. Last year was our first without any formal curriculum and I won’t lie–it stressed me out a little bit. They ditched every school book we had. Severed every tether to a ‘quantifiable and measurable learning’. But then we started having so much fun travelling, going to museums, playing at the park, hiking in the mountains, and I forgot to worry. And then something amazing happened! The Naturalist (a mathophobic if there ever was one) asked me if she could start doing some math work during the day for the upcoming year. She said, “Math at school was stressful, but math at home is interesting. I think I got burned out, and needed a break from it. But now I’d love to learn more!” And then, just the other day, The Golfer asked if we could get some more science books with experiments. And if he could learn how to write in cursive. And learn to read from some of his WWII books.

It’s nice to continue our year with the kids asking to learn things, rather than dreading the start of another school year.

Now, I’ve heard that there are actual kids out there who really enjoy school. I wasn’t one of those, and my kids weren’t either…but I’ve seen kids skipping down the sidewalk anticipating the bus. And despite my rather extreme form of schooling, I’m all for that. Homeschool, Unschool, Public School, Private School….anytime and anyplace a kid loves to learn, it’s a good thing.

So, here’s to the new school year! To some, the learning cycle is an ebb and flow, never really stopping. For others, learning is about to get a kick start in a new grade. For everyone, I wish a happy, fun, exciting learning adventure for the rest of this year!