Wednesday, January 15, 2014

First Day of School

What?  A new post so soon?  I make no promises for future diligence.  

So what is the occasion of the new post?  A new school year!  Well, for the boys.  The girls are carrying on at home with the work they've been doing.  Schools here start in January and run until the end of November.  All you northern hemisphere people don't forget that our seasons are opposite so we've just come off summer break.  And yes, I'd like to remind you once again that we were basking in the sunshine by the pool while it was freezing in the U.S. last week.  You're welcome.

Look how big my boys are getting!  

Liam is in grade 2 and Henry is in Reception.  

It was a cloudy morning and when it's cloudy here you're actually in the cloud.  This is the new school hall and you can't see it, but there is a mountain in the background.  

When the girls and I got home the house was SO QUIET.  We're going to be able to get so much done this year, but we will miss the boys during the day.  

Liam was so very happy after school.  He had so much fun and was so excited about everything (including homework!).  It's so nice to see him so happy.  Henry was very happy, too…and extremely tired.  Perfect!  

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Plans

It's a new year and a new post is long overdue.  What have we been up to?  Oh dear, I was too busy to blog about it then and I'm afraid it would take too much time to write about it now!  So…onward to the future.

January finds us at the end of our summer break and this week things are getting back to their busy normal. We started the kids in a lot of sports and lessons last year in an attempt to help the kids make friends.  That hoped-for result didn't materialise, but they have really enjoyed themselves.  They take swim, horse riding, tennis, cricket, and karate lessons.  The girls have Afrikaans lessons and art lessons.  Rosie is still studying violin, Charlotte has started playing the recorder, and Liam has started playing piano.  

As 2013 wore on it became clear that Liam was unhappy.  He talked/talks constantly about the friends he had in America and how they used to play together.  He has yet to make a friend here.  It is mainly for this reason that we decided to have him go back to school in 2014.  The private school they attended last year has made many changes, the biggest being that they are now a Cambridge school.  The three oldest kids were tested in reading and maths as part of the process of putting Liam back in (the principle was curious about the girls) and all scored very well.  It made me feel good as a parent to know that the kids are learning as they should.  

The girls will continue to be home schooled for now.  Both adamantly do not want to go back and both are thriving academically and socially at home.  We will continue to do some schooling at home with the boys because the school does not teach all that I want them to learn.  

I look forward to more study this year as I prepare to teach the kids.  I think constantly about how and what I will teach them.  And…there is still so much out there that I want to learn!  This year I want to mainly focus on languages, especially Afrikaans and Venda.  I haven't yet applied myself to a systematic study of either language but I can understand a good bit of each.  I also plan on reading more in Spanish as I have no one here to speak it to, and I plan to continue studying Latin.  I know…that's a lot of languages.  But why not?  Anything I accomplish or gain will be more than I started with.  

Another goal for 2014 is to make a bunch of these squares:  I'm doing a CAL with some ladies in Cape Town all year where we make one day.  My personal goal is actually 5 a week. I've crocheted since I was 9 and imagine my surprise when someone came over and remarked that my (probably-vintage-by-now) chevron afghans were fashionable.  It's nice to see some of my "early work" being appreciated by others.  I've enjoyed them all along.  (I've also heard that  selfies are popular these days…does this count?)   

Friday, May 31, 2013

My "Scarlet" Boy

We're on day two here with Liam and his scarlet fever. It just sounds so dramatic, but it's really not. There were generations when the name brought fear, but today it's really no big deal. With basic antibiotics and fever reducers there is no danger and he's even up and playing some. Not to say that he isn't miserable, but it's certainly not life threatening or any more miserable than a bad case of the flu.

Today my mind turned to those previous generations as his fever was still high after both tylenol and ibuprofen. Even still he was running around and torturing the girls. He alternates from sitting on the couch playing on his kindle to jumping in circles. I'm convinced that it's just impossible to keep a 5 year old boy still...for long.

His rash is still spreading, but we've made a fun game of putting on cream to help with the itching. We sing the afrikaans song "Jan Pierewiet" and he turns around while I keep my hands still, then at the staan stil part he stops and I tickle. And, of course, he gets a soentjie from his mama. :)

The words for the curious: Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet staan stil. Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet staan stil. Goeie more my vrou, hier's 'n soentjie vir jou. Goeie more my man, daar is koffie in die kan. (Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet stand still. Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet stand still. Good morning my wife, here's a little kiss for you. Good morning my husband, there is coffee in the can)

Some people have wondered if him catching it has anything to do with our location and the answer is no. It's quite rare here, as in the US. From what I understand it has a lot to do with the person's reaction to the bacteria. The other kids have had fevers and sore throats to some degree so they are probably infected, too. One thing that our location does determine is what we do now. The antibiotics and fever reducers are cheap, but there are a lot of children around here who would not have access to either for various reasons (poverty, lack of transport, etc) so we're keeping the kids home for a week or so. We don't want to risk spreading it to kids who wouldn't get treatment. That is one of the hardest things about living here- knowing that a $2 antibiotic makes all the difference in the world and knowing that it still isn't always available to everyone...even if they live just 20km away.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Catching up

Where have I been?  Boring, mundane, everyday life.  Although, as some of you have reminded me, our "mundane" is not so mundane to many of you.  We have lots of people coming and going constantly and our guest room rarely goes a week without being occupied (actually, I don't know that it has ever gone a week without being occupied).  Now that we are homeschooling the result is constant chaos...rather, let's call it constant controlled chaos.  Yes, theory.  

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how we want to go about homeschooling.  It is difficult to keep any kind of schedule here because the exception is the rule.  Every day is an exception.  I've also struggled with deciding which grade level to teach them at.  The grades they would be in here differ from what they were in in America.  For now I'm just teaching each subject for each kid at the level of their knowledge/ability.  Imagine that!  Finding the limit of their knowledge and expanding it!  That is one decided advantage of teaching at home.  So...Rosie is in 6th grade spelling, 3rd grade grammar, 2nd grade maths (in fairness to her, the math I've chosen is rather more difficult/advanced than the one she was doing in America and probably matches up to 3rd/4th grade).  Charlotte is doing 1st grade grammar, 2nd grade spelling, and 1st grade maths.  Liam is nearly done with what I am going to call Kindergarten or Reception.  He's starting to read well and his handwriting is improving even though we haven't started a handwriting program.  He's also doing grade 1 maths.  (a note here: in South Africa the subject is called Maths and not Math.  The kids picked up on the difference while in school and we've kept the "s" in our daily usage.  Saying "math" sounds funny to people here and a little childish...which is, of course, how "maths" sounds to Americans).  

All of the children are learning Latin, Afrikaans, and Venda, though we're not requiring written work yet.  Most people here are bi- or trilingual and it has given me the confidence to say "why not?" about the languages.  It is truly amazing to watch children here switch from one language to the other seamlessly.  It is quite common to see an adult carrying on a conversation with 2 different people in two different languages simultaneously.  Several friends have been surprised to know that most Americans speak only one language ("That's so weird!").  Our kids haven't gotten good at separating the languages  yet so we end up with some funny phrases like, "Dankie mater."  

But enough of the homeschooling news...I'm sure I've bored the non-homeschooling readers to tears.  Pictures?  But I am going to be that way and start with pictures of our homeschool on a "typical" day (meaning today).  Actually, the very first picture isn't from today.  It's from a mythical day of ages past when the house was perfectly clean.  I thought it would be nice to give perspective on what the room looks like as a whole.  

The girls doing their maths lessons.  I was eating my breakfast...and taking pictures.

When they have work to complete on their own they take it to their desks.  Here's Rosie working on handwriting this morning.  

Lunch time!  Henry was being extra cute.  Ok, ok, he's always extra cute.

The middle of our day is usually quiet reading time.  Henry falls asleep most days and the girls read in their room. theory he reads books on his bed.  Now that he can read more I think the reality will catch up to the theory.  

This afternoon the kids decided to make a restaurant in the side garden behind the koi pond (no koi...really more of a mosquito breeding pond but we do try to keep it drained)

Charlotte sweeping the ground in the rockery.  Yes, this house has a rockery.  Just go with it. 

Perspective.  I was standing in the rockery and looking toward the front gate when I took this picture.  The front door is to the left.

Welcome to the Magical Restaurant!  Perry is your maitre d.  

On staff we have one of the finest African chefs of our time.  He spent his early years studying in America at the famous "Midnight Cafe" near Nashville.  

The chef discusses the menu with another satisfied customer.

On the other side of the garden the girls were digging a hole.  

And now it's 6:15pm and dinner is cooking and the kids are playing outside with torches.  Winter is coming, so it gets dark just before 6 now.  James will be home late so we'll be having a late dinner and late bed time.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A trip to Kruger

I've been going through pictures from our recent trip to Kruger park and trying to pick out the good ones.  I took surprisingly few pictures...maybe I was too busy gawking.  

The animals are great, but living in Africa can be a non-stop photo op.  I don't know if I'll ever get used to the non-sequitor nature of Africa.  So often you see signs and say, "What?!"  Or someone walking down the street in a Georgia Bulldogs sweatshirt in the middle of summer.  We saw this sign on the way to the park:

Oh yes, you too can go to computer college, get your auto parts, and buy beauty products all in the same building!  

And as long as we're being about a squirrel in Africa?  Ho-hum and common you say?  Many of the people I meet here can't imagine a place where squirrels run everywhere and there are no monkeys in the trees.  When I tell them about squirrels being in our yard they are amazed...much like my reaction to monkeys in their gardens!  This was the first squirrel I had seen since moving here 6 months ago.

And yes, there were the typical African animals, too, though we didn't see too many and most of them were too far into the grass or trees for me to get a good picture.  This guy, however, came out for a better look.  First we saw him in the trees just off the road.

Then he turned and headed our way

Finally, he got downright nosey.  We actually had to reverse to get out of his way...and as I was not driving I took pictures.   The birds on the dash are wooden- I bought them from a guy on the side of the road on our drive up.  There are people everywhere selling all sorts of crafts.  The birds cost me about $5.

Speaking of birds...we saw a few.

The kids' favourite part was actually drawing in the sand at one of the camps.  As fun as seeing animals is, they preferred drawing in the sand to driving around being quiet for hours looking for them.  I wonder why?  

They also enjoyed eating ice cream on a termite mound.  Seriously.  That whole hill is a termite nest.  The kids didn't believe us until we took them around to see the information sign.   

At that same camp these two birds got very close as they scavenged for scraps.  "Common" birds, but exciting for us.

 One of my favourite things that we saw wasn't really an animal, but a spider.  We were trying to see some rhinos in the far distance when this little guy distracted me.  Ok, not so little.  It looked to be at least 5" long.  

 And finally, the talking impala.  I wonder what it was trying to tell us?  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not fickle, just figuring it out

Big change for our family this week: we started homeschooling the kids.  Eek!  What a giant leap and an uncertain one.  At first we were very happy with the school  and it seemed like such a great thing.  The environment is amazing and the kids had made a few friends.  There were a few unexpected bonuses- Henry came home speaking a little TshiVenda he had learned from friends and the kids generally picked up on the different English.  As a matter of fact, some things have been seemingly set in stone for them.  "Z" is now "zed" and the word "been" is pronounced "bean" by all of them.  An eraser is a rubber and bandaids are plasters.  Also, jello is now jelly and the stuff you spread on bread is jam.  Instead of 2nd grade it is now grade 2 and Math is now Maths.  We wanted them to be able to adjust and blend in and thought school was the best way to do that.  

Indeed, school is the best way to do that, but it isn't our only goal for their education.  At first we just waited and watched to see how things were going.  Then one day Rosie brought home her grammar "book"- it was really no more than a little booklet and had no organisation, but rather seemed a collection of unrelated exercises meant to fix grammar problems rather than teach a system.  Not long after that Charlotte stayed home sick one day and her school work came home with Rosie.  I had seen the homework but didn't know what was being done in class.  The math instruction is a lot of rote memorisation with hardly any practice with the concrete or with learning the concepts.  They had learned place value in one day and one lesson in Grade 2 and were expected to apply the knowledge immediately.  

As we started asking questions we found that the school was not on the Cambridge system, but rather used the government curriculum and Cambridge resources to supplement.  So disappointing!  (They advertise that they are on the Cambridge system and told us that when we started)  They start children much later and Liam, in grade R, was learning the same things he had learned in pre-K before we moved.  There was still another year before the school expected him to start learning to read, but every day he was coming home and asking for a reading lesson.  Rosie had not learned anything new except for Afrikaans and it began to feel like we were paying for her to play all day.  

I know that there is a lot to be said for them adjusting and making friends, but academically they were going to end up years behind.  Our children love learning and reading and academic things.  They were craving knowledge and we were spending 1 to 2 hours a day doing extra lessons at home (their choice).  I am not a big fan of homeschooling in general.  I do not think it is always best and up until now I did not think I could do a better job than the school they were at.  Now, however, I do think that homeschooling is the best thing for our kids.  And I want to give a big shout out to Agathos Classical School because our experiences this last year have shown us what an amazing school it is.  Academically Agathos is great, but more than that the environment and people that make up the school make it exceptional.  So often I wish the kids could still be there, but at least the older ones got to be there for a few years.  

We're still trying to find ways to fill the social gap for the kids.  There is no homeschool group here...yet.  I have met one other homeschool family and have been connected to some other possibilities.  Information on the internet just isn't available here so you have to find things by word of mouth and it takes a while.  The 3 older kids will be starting karate classes tomorrow and they seem excited about it.  It's very different from the US (or at least from our experience)- bare concrete floor, open windows and children with bare feet (I know that's normal in the US for classes, but here the kids were not wearing shoes to begin with- most kids here do not wear shoes most of the time).  Charlotte has started recorder lessons and we're hoping to start horse riding and swimming lessons soon.  One happy surprise here has been how cheap services are.  For all 3 kids to take karate twice a week comes out to about $50 a month.  Recorder lessons are $12 a month and swim lessons about $10 a month.  Now if only my groceries were less expensive...but I suppose it all has to even out somehow.  :)  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February is here

February 7?!  February?!!  Already?!  Time is just flying by in leaps and bounds and is carrying us along with it.  Other than a few sniffles and some minor head injuries we're doing well (seriously...the same child got a nasty gash on her head twice since I last wrote).  The kids started school on the 15th of January and it's been nonstop dirty uniforms ever since.  

Grandma sent new back pack for the boys for Christmas and they were SO thrilled to be sporting them.  We took these pictures for Grandma.  :)  

Everyone on board the Buchanan Taxi!  See all the dirt?  The kids' school is on a dirt road and when it rains that road becomes an adventure slide!  The first day of school was actually cancelled because of heavy rains and the road was difficult to drive.  

On this particular day Charlotte was sick and asked to stay home.  I'm sure she was well enough to go to school, but I think she needed some time at home so we let her stay.  At one point she popped out of her room dressed like this:

And a snapshot of a weekday afternoon: girls doing homework, boys playing Candyland, me sipping coffee (or, rather, I would be if I weren't taking pictures), and Fern treating Severus as a chew toy.   

Speaking of Fern...she's still the cutest dog ever.  She's showing herself to be clever, too.  It took one day to teach her how to sit and at almost 3 months old she is house broken.  We've had to start locking the front door when we want her to stay outside because she's figured out how to open it.  And, of course, if we leave the back door open she quickly runs around the house to sneak in that way.  I wish I had a recording of her yawns...SO CUTE.

Tomorrow we start Venda lessons with a professor from the University of Venda.  I'm really looking forward to learning more.  On Monday Charlotte starts recorder lessons and she is really excited about that.  I've been having a lot of fun with my knitting and am working on a test knit for the first time.  I'm also working on a lacy yellow cardigan.  I'm sure some would disagree, but I consider myself a beginner because I still have so much to learn.  Every project that you see me post is a new skill and a challenge for me.  I'm not the type of person to be content making the same things over and over again...or even doing the same things in life over and over again.  I love trying new things and gaining new skills whether it be in knitting or life in general.  Onward and upward!