Category Archives: When we were in America

Dear Icelandic Volcano…

…I see you took my warning seriously. Wise decision. I’m going in 2 days, so please behave yourself. Now, once I’m there, if you feel the need to let loose with some ash, be my guest. I wouldn’t mind being stranded there for a few extra weeks.

Goin’ home to Ohio for 3 weeks…see ya’ll later! ♥


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When my son was 6 months old, I saw the cutest stuffed dog in a greeting card shop. It was about 7 inches long and part-filled with stuffing, part-filled with beans. It was a sort of cream/yellow colour and came complete with leather-like red collar and house. My son loved it. When he learned to talk, he named him ‘Doggie.’ That little dog never left my son’s side. He slept with it and took it everywhere. It was his friend and favourite plaything. When he decided to stop nursing, he used Doggie as his comfort; he pressed his closed lips to Doggie’s nose and made a little movement with his lips similar to suckling. He did this a lot, especially when tired or ill. That Doggie has been through the washing machine many, many times.

We also took Doggie on trips with us, and our trips to America were no exception. Last year, when my son was 3, we packed a little carry-on for him, and of course, Doggie was packed as well. I say packed, but of course Doggie never saw the inside of the bag, at least not for long, as he was always in Stiggy’s arms, usually pressed to his lips.

This was the year that I bought Stiggy’s bedding. I had bought him the cutest set from Target, with brightly coloured automobiles. The only problem was, they didn’t have the matching sheets in the size we needed. So, we made a trip to Columbus to go to another Target. We went, and happily they had the sheets. At some point, Stiggy asked me to put Doggie in my handbag. I shoved him in a side pocket and forgot about him. Before beginning the 80-mile trip home, I stopped at a petrol station to fill up. As we were pulling out, Stiggy asked for Doggie. Well, I couldn’t find him. I pulled over and searched the car, went back to Speedway and looked around…nothing. We went back to Target, searched the car park, walked around the shop, retracing our steps, and asked at Customer Services if a stuffed dog had been handed in. Nothing. Feeling terribly sorry for Stiggy, I bought him a replacement. It most definitely wasn’t the same; the nose wasn’t right for his comfort nuzzling.

I cried the whole way home. That Doggie probably meant more to me than it did to Stiggy. Needless to say, he was devastated, too. He kept asking for his Doggie, but bravely, he did not cry.

When we got home, I was bereft. That may sound a bit silly, but so many memories were tied to that little toy, and it broke my heart to think of it lying around somewhere, being kicked around or thrown away.

I phoned Target the next day. Nothing. I even thought about making up ‘missing’ posters to put up at the shop. We wanted that stuffed dog back so badly. At night, Stiggy would ask for it. He looked so sad. My husband, who was in England, went back to the shop to see if they still sold them, but they didn’t. He also scoured the internet looking for a replacement, but the ones he found, although similar, were far too big.

I called Target every day for 2 weeks. Finally, I had to accept defeat. There was no way the dog was going to show up after that long.

Another week went by and we were planning a trip to COSI in Columbus. I decided I’d give Target one last try. I described the toy to the lady who answered as a little yellow stuffed dog. Nope. There was a yellow duck, but no yellow dog. There was, though, a cream dog. I described it in more detail, and amazingly, it was our Doggie! Oh, the happiness I felt at that moment.

I did not tell Stiggy that Doggie had been found. And I’d never been so anxious to get anywhere in my life. We pulled into the Target parking lot, and do you know, that little stinker knew we were coming to get his Doggie. That was such a happy day. And we are very careful with Doggie now. If he goes out with us, he stays in the car.

Not too long ago, I came across the book Dogger by the amazing children’s writer and illustrator Shirley Hughes. It is a lovely, heart-warming story that very much resembles what happened to our Doggie.


Posted by on December 17, 2008 in Family Life, Reading, When we were in America


Wrapping It Up

It’s nearly the end of our visit…the time has gone so quickly and looking back on it I have to ask myself, ‘What, exactly, have we done with all this time?’ Not much really stands out in my mind. Most of our activities were ruined either by rain (the butterfly walk and star-gazing), bugs (we were going to pick boysenberries and make a pie, but we were being eaten alive by all kinds of insects, and when I saw a tick we ran for it), car troubles (bad brakes and mice nibbling on wires), the price of petrol (trips to the zoo and COSI cancelled, because it would have cost $40 just to get there), or the heat. Yes, I’m a wimp: when the temperature reaches above 90 I take cover.

I had planned to do some sort of homeschooling during this time. Besides reading aloud several times a day (which is already a habit), one or two activities from Mudpies to Magnets, a few arts and crafts things (including a papier mache project which is still not completed), anything educational was also accidental.

I have managed a HUGE amount of reading. I haven’t totaled it up, but I think it’s somewhere between 40 and 50 books. Much of the reading was ‘method’ exploring. I hope to comment of some of the reading in future posts. I made several curriculum purchases, too.

Basically, we had a nice, relaxing time. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it was great never the less. I’m really looking forward to getting home.

I’ll spend the next several days packing, cleaning, finishing up the library books and hauling the 82 items we have checked out back to the library over a few trips, last minute shopping, and trying not to stress, but doing it anyway. I have a heart murmur, so heart palpitations and an irregular rhythm often plague me at night during my last two weeks in the States. There’s just so much that can go wrong (and often does) when traveling; my biggest worry being the weight of my bags. It’s such a struggle to get everything in the suitcases and still remain within the weight restrictions. It didn’t used to be a problem, but since they’ve lowered the weight allowance by 20 pounds on each bag for international flights, it’s difficult. I have a luggage scale and I try to pack as early as I can to make any necessary adjustments, but I still worry.

Looking forward to seeing the hubby, getting back into our routine, and using some of these great books!

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Posted by on July 9, 2008 in When we were in America


A Little Happy Moment…

I was shopping for groceries a few days ago. As we went up and down the aisles, we passed an older lady on one of those electric scooters. She had (I’m assuming) her grandson on her lap. He sat there, completely engrossed in a little hand-held computer game, not speaking (other than to the screen), not tearing is eyes away for even a second. So, although he was in such close physical contact with his grandmother, there was no interaction between them whatsoever.

My son was in the cart. He had one of those big cheapo calculators with the big buttons. He was using the calculator to add up our groceries, to blast space invaders, and to programme his high-speed racer. He was making all kinds of great (and loud) sound effects, chatting to me and to passers-by as they inevitably smiled, laughed, and commented on his lively play.

I was a happy shopper that day, and not just because there was a sale on strawberries. From that little play experience, he was using his imagination, learning a little about math, and interacting with other people…aha! Socialization!


Summer Reading Programme and Motivators

So, why will we not be participating in the summer reading programme?

Well, I heard a comment by Mary Hood and it really rang true to me.

These sorts of external motivators really do only one thing: they teach kids that without a reward, reading isn’t worth doing. Kids do it for the reward, not for the love of reading. A child who already loves to read will possibly, when the carrots and sticks are removed, forget that he loved to read before all of that.

We don’t give our kids a reward for eating their ice cream, going to the park, or having fun, do we? We don’t reward our kids for doing things they love…we often reward for doing things they don’t want to do. Do we really want to teach our kids that reading needs to be rewarded?

That’s every homeschooling parent’s worst nightmare.

Even for the reluctant reader, they will get the same message. A reluctant reader needs 3 things: to be provided with books he/she is interested in, to be read to and see his/her parents enjoying reading, and to not be pressured.

I’ve come to dislike contrived, external motivators altogether. I think life provides enough naturally-occurring motivators.

We love the library…but will be avoiding the summer reading programme like school.


Home Educating in America

Wow…I can’t believe 4 weeks have already passed. I have been completely overwhelmed by the array of resources.

A library that actually has the books that I need! And in an order in which I can find them! (Our library in the UK has no system for its picture books; they’re just shoved onto the shelves) A library with programmes for children; my son has been to two so far: one about dinosaurs and one about plants. The children listened to stories on the topic, danced around to songs, and made a dinosaur craft at the one, and potted a marigold and planted some sunflower seeds at the other (the seeds have happily sprouted).

I’ve been able to have a good look at some of the books I’ve been thinking about buying, like Mudpies to Magnets, to see what’s good and what’s not. Too many good ones…my suitcase just isn’t going to hold them all.

And the books on home schooling…too many to get through in 3 months! Linda Dobson, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Mary Hood workshops on cassette, periodicals…

I’ve even met a few home schooling families at the library.

What else have we been doing?

I’ve taken my son to the park a few times, he’s been playing outside a lot, we’ve been walking the dogs around our fields, playing croquet, experimenting with the treadmill, playing Monopoly, messing around with pattern blocks and Lincoln Logs, arts and crafts, a few little fun science ‘experiements’ (like mixing colours, making ‘slime’, etc) reading LOTS of stories, he’s been spending lots of time with his grandparents, using the dog leash as a pretend fishing line, and as always, playing with his Hot Wheels.

He also attended an art class at the local art center/gallery. Come to find out, it was taught by my cousin, Jenny, whom I haven’t seen for over 10 years! We had a lovely time catching up, and my son loved the class. It was entitled ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.’ The children traced automobile shapes onto black paper and outlined the shapes in pastels. They smudged the chalk to make it appear as if the vehicles are moving. It was something we could have done at home, but the group setting was great, and my son got to to work with pastels, something I may not have thought of, and he loved it. Jenny taught him a few techniques. They were also read a story and played a little game where they had to guess the vehicle being described. I watched with pure joy as my very bashful son called out answers.

After the class we went to the arts and crafts shop to purchase some pastels. I was surprised by the different kinds and was unsure which ones to buy, when who should we run into but Jenny! I asked her to recommend some and we went home with a nice set of pastels and some sketch paper. (Oh, and some powdered temperas which were on sale).


We’ve been reading a lot of books by Shel Silverstein. The first one was The Giving Tree. This is a very interesting book that some people actually hate. Most people want the traditional happy ending and are opposed to children being exposed to any emotion other than ‘happily ever after’. This book really invites a whole range of emotion and makes you think. There are many ways to interpret this book. It’s a story about a boy who spends lots of time with a tree that gives and gives to him until it’s reduced to a stump, and essentially the boy, even when he is a stooped old man, gives nothing back (except his time). The tree, never complaining, seems to be happy with the arrangement, but the boy seems to lead an unfulfilled life, thus bringing him back to the tree time and again to try and achieve some happiness. Make of it what you will. I think it’s a thought-provoking book of selfless love and teaches about giving and appreciation: the boy lacks appreciation so much that it brings it to your (and hopefully your child’s) attention. Is this lack of giving the cause of the boy’s unhappines? Is the tree really happy? My son and I loved it.

We’ve also been reading The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. These are more of the feel-good variety and are wonderful stories about shapes seeking life partners and happiness. The way the shapes go about it humorously mimic humans’ search for love and fulfillment and really make you smile.

We have lots of other great things planned, including the summer reading programme, which we will not be participating in (I’ll talk about why), a butterfly walk, programmes at the nature center, trips to Kingwood center, and more.

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Posted by on May 27, 2008 in When we were in America


Coming Home

Every Year I go to the States to visit my family. I go anytime between the end of April and beginning of August and stay from between 6 and 12 weeks. Usually I know 3 months ahead of time that I’m going, but this time I had only a week to prepare.

My husband was on the computer checking out tickets, and he came into the kitchen where I was slaving away over some meal that no one would like and he said, ‘Do you want to go to America next week?’ I thought he was joking, as he gets a kick out of getting my hopes up and dashing them, albeit good-naturedly, but I took the bait.

Sure enought, there on the screen, was a page of possible travel dates with not only this month attached to them, but this year, too. They also had not-as-expensive-as-we-feared prices attached to them. So we booked it. I called my step-father to tell him (ok, ask him) and we decided to not tell my mum. She’s not one for surprises, but hey, my husband’s not the only one who gets his laughs at others’ expense.

For some reason, that week before I went was the longest of my life. Not sure why. I was excited, yes, but I had so much to do, and really, I was in no hurry.

The day finally arrived.

I arrived at Manchester airport, on time, only to be greeted by a flashing banner informing us cheerfully that our flight was to be 2.5 hours delayed. Surely that’s for a different flight, I thought. Nope. It was mine alright. And the delightful lady at the desk said there was no reason to rebook my next flight; I’d make it on time.

Apparently I was supposed to get through immigration, collect my 3 suitcases, go through customs, go through another security check, get the shuttle and find my gate, all in an hour. With a 4-year-old. And a pushchair. Sure.

But, I did. Because the plane was late, the queue in immigration wasn’t so bad, my bags came quickly, customs waved us through, security wasn’t as tight as it should have been, and my gate was just inside the terminal. I had 5 minutes to spare.

As for the 7-hour flight itself? Not bad. There were a few empty seats, so the lady next to me offered to sit with her friends, giving us an extra with which to spread out. The food was so-so, the in-flight entertainment was mildly distracting, and my son was well-behaved. Can’t really ask for much better than that.

We arrived in Cleveland, bags impressively there, and my step-father pulled up 10 minutes later.

We arrived at the house, exhausted but excited. My son and I walked into the living room where my mum was on the phone. It was really strange; I had to keep reminding myself that my mum had no idea I was coming. I felt as if I was just coming into the house from being out. She turned, and I swear, I’ve never seen anyone’s jaw drop so far. She quickly got of the phone and said, no less than 62 times, ‘Oh my God!’ When she stopped saying that, she asked, ‘How long are you staying?’ I said, ‘Three months, and there better be clean sheets on the bed!’ She laughed manically and we both went upstairs to change the sheets. She said it was the best surprise she’s ever had.

Can’t wait to get my hands on all the great resources and activities here!

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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in When we were in America