That guy is supposed to be "overwhelmed," which is what I was when I first arrived at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Thursday afternoon, but I don't know if that's what I think of when I look at it. But never mind him. OMG, the GRCC is huge, the amount of people there was huge, the number of things to see and do was huge, it was all just... huge.
I was really wishing that the rest of my family, or at least my husband, were with me, but alas, I was alone. (They were supposed to come, but then Chloë had a mandatory dance rehearsal on Saturday morning, and Sophia had preschool graduation on Friday afternoon, followed by a picnic, followed by Chloë's party for being Super Citizen of tte month for her class...)
After checking into my cheaper-than-cheap hotel room in a not-so-classy part of Richmond, I drove the 2.5-mile, 25-minute (yes, I'm serious) drive down to the convention center, paid six bucks to park, and followed the crowd. I was semi-organized in that I had highlighted in green all of the workshops I definitely wanted to attend, and in orange, those that I might possibly want to attend... but I probably should have studied the maps more, because I had no idea where to go.
Fortunately, the home-schooling community is made up of Generally Nice People, and one such GNP noticed me standing in the middle of things, wide-eyed, looking around in bewilderment. She walked me to the registration table and then pointed out where I should go after that. She told me to try not to get too overwhelmed (too late) and before walking away, said, "You're here alone, for your first time? Oh, bless your heart." I think my poor heart was blessed about 75 times during the course of the convention.
Anyway, for the next 5½ hours, I sat through four workshops on, basically, "how to homeschool." There were half-hour breaks after each hour-long session, during which I crocheted on a baby blanket for CARE Package. Unfortunately, I have done a TON of research on home-schooling, homeschool laws in the state of Virginia, and choosing curricula, so I really didn't get a single new piece of information out of that period of time. Suckage. But, had I not gone, of course I would not have learned that much, right? And there was nothing else that I really could have done in that time, so it wasn't a total waste.
After the workshops, I had about an hour left before my parking garage closed at 1900 (lame!), so I went to explore the ginormous Exhibit Hall full of vendors selling everything from Christian Curriculum (80%) to crafts (5%) to gadgets (5%) to miscellaneous stuff (8%) to, uh, oh yeah - secular curriculum (2%). YEAH. It's VERY hard to be a secular home-schooler, at least in the state of Virginia. Er, commonwealth. Whatever.
Which brings me to the point where I could editorialize for hours about home-schooling from a Christian-based point of view, but I will try not to do that. Suffice it to say, I am Christian, but I am also a scientist, a biologist, and I not only "believe in" evolution but know that is an actual, real, observable phenomenon. I can do nothing but roll my eyes at the people who believe and teach their kids otherwise, and I do. A lot. Sorry if you're one, but oh, my God, learn some science. Evolution does NOT contradict Creationism, and if you want to read a great explanation about that, read the top of this page. Just the top. ;)
Anyway, before I get myself worked up, let's move on to this funny sign I spotted on one vendor's table:
I asked her before I took the picture, and I think she was tickled that I noticed it. Maybe you've seen it before, but I hadn't and thought it was too funny!
I looked through half the Exhibit Hall, spending just a tiny bit of money on a couple things for the kids, before I had to go rescue Vanna from the garage and head out for something to eat. On the short-but-long drive "home" to my hotel, I took a few pictures of some of the houses. Richmond is full of really great, old architecture, and I would have loved to have more time to walk around, take it in, and snap some pictures. But I have one more, and that's it:
I look at houses like that and see faces. I see faces on cars, too. Do you?
One picture that I really wish I had been able to take: near the GRCC was a very old apartment building, very stylish and well maintained but obviously as old as the country itself, probably. Well, probably not that old, but OLD. But smack-dab in front of it was a sign promoting a "move-in special," and it was bright and splashy and couldn't have been more in contrast with the old building. I stopped and looked at it every time I passed it.
I tried to find this place to get something to eat, since I wanted to continue eating local, organic food and this was definitely The Place to go for that, but I couldn't find it. Not because the GPS on my iPhone wasn't sufficient - it was, and it was my lifeline while in the city - but there was so much construction going on around Broad Street where I mainly traveled, that I couldn't figure out where to actually turn to stay on path. So I skipped it in favor of a tiny Mexican restaurante that promised authentic food.
Um, so why was half the menu Greek food? I didn't get it. I ordered a vegetarian plate, subbing beans for the rice I can't eat, and ate about a third of it, and two sips of my drink. The service was terrible, and no one came to ask if I needed anything. I was reading many of the things I'd picked up at the Exhibit Hall, so when the server came to check on me, finally, I told her I was "all set." Normally, when someone leaves a ton of food, you'd think they might want a box, right? Or at least you'd ask? No. She whisked my plate and drink away and dumped them in the trash! I was mortified! I planned on eating more later that night, or the following night. I was so dumbfounded, I just paid and left. But holy cow, I was not happy.
I had stayed up all night the night before, planning my trip and generally being too excited to sleep, and my two cups of coffee had long since worn off. I went back to the hotel and crashed. Hard.
My phone had died, and I forgot to set the room's alarm clock, so I slept really, really late. I missed the free hotel breakfast, and I missed the first workshop session at the convention center. It wasn't that upsetting, though, because I really hadn't settled in on one that I felt I had to attend. I would have liked to have gotten something out of it. Oh, well.
For breakfast, I spent a buck and had a bag of seeds and nuts out of the vending machine. It more than filled me up. I'm glad I can eat so little, so cheaply, since I had very little to spend!
Driving back to the convention center, I happened to find a GREAT parking spot that someone else was just vacating, just two blocks from the hall. I tried the parking garage, but it was full, as was every parking lot around, so I sent up a prayer of thanks when I happened upon this space. And it was FREE! The limit was two hours, but I decided to chance it and stay there the whole time. I was right, no ticket. Yay!
It was during the long lunch break when I arrived, so I meandered around for a minute, until I decided to which workshop I wanted to go. These two home-schooled students were playing classical music for the crowd during breaks, and they were great. Very talented.
I settled on a class about teaching your children art. I was the first person there, so the presenter, Barry Stebbing, asked me to run the projector for him. We chatted for a minute, and he asked where I was from. I told him, and he said, "Oh, Pat Robertson! Right? Do you ever watch the 700 Club?" I should have known that he was yet another deeply conservative Christian, but I didn't, so when I replied, "Uh, well, I've seen it, but I don't go out of my way to watch it," his face changed slightly. He didn't really chat with me much after that, at that time. But remember him, because he will come back later in this post.
The class was great, and I learned a great deal. It changed a lot about how I planned to run our art classes this year, from willy-nilly and unfocused, to fundamental and well-planned. I knew what I needed to buy and where I needed to start. Perfect.
I headed down to my next workshop room and crocheted for the half-hour until it started. I did that a lot: got there early, sat and crocheted, and listened to the people around me whispering about what I was doing. Sometimes I saw them point. Sometimes they tapped me on the shoulder and either said I was really fast or asked what I was amaking. Sometimes they said I was industrious or something like that. Some lamented that they hadn't brought their own needlework. That surprised me. Why wouldn't you bring it? I can't even imagine why not. Knitters and crocheters never complain about having to wait.
The workshop was on evaluating your child's writing, and I enjoyed the speaker. I got a lot out of it, but maybe not as much as I would have liked, since it was mainly geared toward older students. The main thought in my head when I left was that I definitely needed to find a grading rubric for my kids' writing assignments.
After class was over, I was finished for the day, so I decided to explore the second half of the Exhibit Hall. I loved these tiny violins, which were about the length of my forearm; I should have put something in the picture for scale. They were too cute.
I do think it's time to get Chloë playing an instrument, but we can't afford lessons. And I certainly am not the one to teach her. We'll do music class as best as I can, but... I don't know. I guess I'll just pray and put on my thinking cap and see what develops.
After I left, I was starving, so I decided to check out the little hole-in-the-wall pizza place on the corner near where I parked. For $1.76, I ate one huge slice of cheese pizza, and that was more than enough for me. It was delicious, so I intended to go back the next day for more! If you're ever in Richmond, go to Romanza pizza at the corner of 1st St and Marshall. It's run by Africans. The service and ambiance are non-existent, but the prices and food more than make up for it!
I had three hours to kill, so I decided to take a bath. I hate baths. I get bored. I don't want to just sit there and do nothing, but I can't do anything much, because it'll get wet. I tried to read, but my magazine was getting wet, so I hurried through it and hopped out of there in five or six minutes. Baths are so boring for me! Rob laughed that I actually took one, but I told him, "hey, I've got a clean tub, no kids to interrupt me, and nothing much else to do."
Actually, I was living in the lap of luxury at that seedy hotel room. It was clean and clutter-free, I had all the AC and TV I wanted, and no one wanted my constant attention. So different from home. I decided to enjoy it... but truthfully, I missed my hubs and kids dreadfully.
A friend of mine was coming into town to hang out and have a drink or two, so I got dressed up for the occasion. A stranger in the hotel said I looked "really nice," and another stranger at the bar called me a MILF when told that I had three kids at home. A MILF! Hello, I am a MILF! I have arrived! I derived great pleasure out of that one!
I wasn't out that late, but I couldn't sleep well and didn't get to rest until about 0400. I tried to read, crochet, watch TV, but nothing was holding my interest, so I just kind of lay there and stared out the window. It sucked, because even though I set my alarms this time, I still woke up late!
Actually, I didn't. I woke up and went downstairs to eat breakfast (a muffin, whoop-de-doo), and then I went back up and fell asleep again. I did set an alarm, but... I didn't hear it. So again, I missed the first workshop session. Damn it!
When I got to the convention center - after finding another free parking space, across the street from the one the day before, woot! - it was lunchtime again, and I was starving. I should have just gone to the pizza place, because I ended up spending over 7 bucks on a sandwich I couldn't eat, and I threw most of it away. I hated that. Hated it. I had nowhere to put it, though, and I didn't have anyone else to take it. Boo.
Remember Joel Salatin from Food, Inc.? (If you haven't seen it yet, you should!) He was the speaker I was most excited to see, and he was giving two back-to-back workshops. I was a little star-struck. I loved the man in the documentary, and I couldn't wait to meet him. I crocheted nervously away, waiting for him to arrive. And then he did:
He was busy setting up his book table, so I got a lovely picture of his butt. No cowboy hat, which I had expected, so I almost didn't recognize him.
I was sitting front and center for both talks. I didn't like the first one at all. He made jab after jab at liberals and tree-huggers like moi, and I thought for a moment about walking out of there. Except for that, though, I liked his message, and really, I was interested in the questions that would be asked at the end. The main thing I got out of it was when one lady asked, "What should we eat when we're traveling? What about eating out, what about eating at someone's home?" And he answered, "Be gracious. If you're served (whatever, can't remember what he said, but basically non-organic, non-local, processed food), smile and be gracious. But remember, I didn't say you have to pig out!"
Smart answer. I hadn't even thought of that myself.
I decided to sit through the second talk anyway, and see what else he had to say about hippy-dippy types like me. Really, I had no idea he was such a "fundy," as my friend J put it, and I was pretty surprised. But the talk was good, less insulting to types like me, and I learned a lot. Nothing about home-schooling, but a lot about his business ethic.
Immediately after that last workshop, I hurried right over to him and asked to have a picture with him. He was more than willing; he's a very nice, approachable, regular guy, even though he gives talks all around the world and is well sought-after at the moment. He cracked a joke just as this picture was being taken, if you can't tell!
Rob arrived right after that, on his motorcycle. He had left the kids home with our friend Linda, so that he could come up with the credit card that we have been trying so hard not to use. But, I really needed to get some things for "doing school," which I'll show you in a minute, and I'm going to aggressively pay that back, so it'll be okay.
Before we left, I picked up a copy of Joel's book (yes, we're on a first-name basis now, didn't you know?) for him to sign. I had been wanting to get it, from either Michele at the organic food shop we patronize or from Amazon, but I figured this was the perfect opportunity to have him sign it. Right?
Can you read it? It says, "To Melanie and Rob - Thanks for being on the right side of the food system. Joel Salatin." And now I can cross meeting him off my bucket list. I'd still like to go for a lunatic tour on his farm sometime this year, though!
So... after that, we ran through the Exhibit Hall once more, to get the goods. We shopped 'til we dropped, or at least, until we hit the credit limit on our card. I didn't get everything I wanted, but it's okay. I was going to buy the huge Spelling Power book, but I can easily find spelling plans online for free. And I was going to buy a Spanish program to teach all three kids, but there is a German teacher in my home-school group who wants to trade lessons for knitting and crochet lessons for her kids, so I might do that instead.
Here's what I did get:
This small kaleidoscope for the kids, because they've never looked through one before, and I think every kid should have one.
Some really inexpensive flash cards that the kids couldn't wait to get their hands on
Sophia really liked the Disney-themed Phonics flashcards. Jack helped her read the words when she couldn't guess from the pictures.
Chloë was, hm, a mite less thrilled about the division and multiplication flash cards I'd picked up for her, but she was still enthusiastic about them.
And before I could take the picture, Jack was already putting away the fourth set of cards, dealing with time and money. "This is boring! I hate this!" LOL we'll see...
The kids delved into the box from Math-U-See right away. I bought everything from the Primer to Epsilon, which will teach them for years. Well, the younger two, anyway. Hopefully Chloë will progress quickly through the levels, although I am going to start her off on the primer, just to make sure we fill any gaps she has. I know there will be some; she really flounders when it comes to math, and unlike at school, I am going to stay on a concept until she masters it. We will not just move along because it's time to teach something else, whether she gets it or not, which is the beauty of schooling at home, isn't it?
Math, math, math!
The math manipulatives, about which Jack was very excited. Apparently they used something similar in his class at school, and he knows all about these. He wanted to know if we could start using them right away!
I ended up going to Barry Stebbing's How Great Thou Art booth in the exhibit hall. Remember him? He's the guy who taught the art workshop I attended. I really liked his presentation, so I decided to go ahead and get the goods. We have a manual, paint cards for each kid, paintbrushes, paints, markers, drawing pens, colored pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners... we are set! His wife, Sandra (I think), told me that this should last us for three years! Unless the kids are really gung-ho about doing art, in which case we could get through it all in a year. Either way is fine with me; I have a feeling they'll want to do it a lot, as they were very excited and wanted to get started today!
I wanted to share something really heartwarming that happened while at his booth: Our card got blocked, because it was a new card, and we had already charged a large amount at the Math-U-See booth. So while Rob was on the phone with the bank to get it unblocked, I was letting the Stebbings know what was was going on, since we had already picked everything out that we wanted to buy, and they were waiting to charge us. Mr. Stebbing told me to just go ahead and take anything I wanted, and if the card didn't go through, I could send him the money in a month or two when I had it. What! I was all, "No, no, I can't do that," but he insisted, saying, "I've never had a homeschooler not pay me." Wow. What a guy. But the card got unblocked, and we were able to use it, so that was good. Still. I was touched.
And last but not least, I picked up this book from the Kids Love Travel booth. It will provide lots of information for taking field trips with the kids throughout the coming year and beyond, and I can't wait to get started. Should be lots of fun!
Okay, I've held you captive long enough. And I need a drink. Ciao!