Saturday, July 29, 2006

Creative Play

We went to a new park today. The park has a giant sand area with a running river, a big messy tactile-creative full-body experience. Here's what fascinates me about lots of children with lots of sand: Watching the kids play and work together. I could sit on the bench overlooking the sand-play and just watch. (If you're like my husband and the idea of a detailed discussion of children and play makes your eyes glaze over, you might want to skip this part. If you want to make me feel better about it you can nod and say "Uh-huh" a couple times.)

A group of little girls connected and stuck together, working to excavate a dinosaur skull. (This sand pit is sooooo cool. It's got "fossils" buried at the bottom. Deep. It's quite a project digging that far down.) Many of the boys, one of the fine young gents included, hopped from group to group depending on what other kids were doing or making. Most interesting, though, was not the individual children, but watching the on-going projects. Two "rivers" snaked through the sand pit, one a little longer than the other, both beginning at the spot where the water pours from the water feature (a raised model river) into the sand pit. It was amazing to watch the child-made rivers grow and change, get longer, suddenly change course or acquire dams. Most of the work was done by kids between the ages of five and seven. The kids would run from spot to spot and start digging, children would come into the sand area and children would leave the sand area. There was very little planning or verbal interaction beyond "Let's dig here!" The children worked randomly, individually or in ever-shifting groups of twos and threes. The water kept running dry in the lower river as the children working on the upper river sat in the stream or inadvertently dammed it up with piles of sand. And yet, marvelous feats of engineering were taking place. By the time we left both rivers had lengthened, changed their courses dramatically, and the pool of the upper river was spilling neatly into the lower river without emptying itself completely or overwhelming the lower pool .

How do they do that?

Watching the kids play reminded me a little of the Reggio-Emilia approach to early childhood education, a constructivist child-led developmental approach to teaching young children. At the Reggio-Emilia preschool (in the town of Reggio-Emilia in Italy), a child's interest in birds led to an ongoing project that spanned several years, the creation of an elaborate amusement park for birds. Amazing.

Just to tie up, here's an article on the benefits of sand play. It's about sand table play, but we can all generalize a little.


On to a new topic. I finally finished Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Stephen Greenblatt). It was such a pleasure to read. Greenblatt examines Shakespeare's life, both the few personal details that are known and the larger historical context, and makes connections between what can be known or reasonably speculated about Shakespeare's life and the themes in Shakespeare's works, particularly Shakespeare's many plays, though the sonnets get some attention in the middle of the book. Greenblatt's obvious enjoyment of his subject is infectious. I was a little disappointed last night when I realized I had only twenty-odd pages left to read. A great read, it's going on my keeper shelf.

An unexpected surprise: Will in the World made a great read-aloud. I read it to the fine young gents as they were drifting off, and it was such fun to roll the sentences off my tongue that I sometimes kept reading after they'd gone fast asleep. Never fear, I am not turning into an "I read Shakespeare to my far-more-advanced-than-your-children" mom. I simply find that reading something that they can actually understand and absorb tends to keep them awake. Reading to them out of my books sends them right off to sleep, and nicely, with the soothing sound of Mom's voice for background. If they develop a taste for Shakespeare down the road, so much the better, but I really just want them to go to sleep so that I can go watch trashy television, er, I mean, read Hamlet or some such intellectual fare.

I learned several new words, as you can see by my Will in the World bookmark set atop the book. I'm too interested in what I'm reading (or I'm too lazy) to stop in the middle, get up, lug the dictionary to the table, and look up a word. Usually I can guess what it means in context, right? Don't learn much that way, though, so I've started using a blank bookmark, writing the words I don't know onto the bookmark, and looking them up later. (Why didn't I think of this long long ago?) Some favorites from Will in the World: pettifogger, crenellated, and internecine.

I hear voices in the backyard, my hammock and my patient husband await. Happy play and happy reading.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My baby is eleven today

When did my tiny baby grow up?

For her birthday, she was given gold earrings and a doll with golden hair. She got a pink shirt and a pink poodle. She was too old to be pinched, but not too old to wear the goofy birthday hat with candles on the top. She feels grown-up and beautiful, and she still wants to sit in my lap and talk. Eleven suits her. I look at her and see a lovely young lady perfectly poised between the little girl she used to be and the young woman she'll become.

I cried a little when I lit her candles.

Happy Birthday, baby.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Saturday Morning


It went to Locks of Love.
She feels beautiful!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

What we're reading

We're a family of readers. I'll periodically offer family reviews of books that we're reading. I'm linking our favorites to, not because I expect you folks to buy them, but to offer information and more in-depth reviews than I've got time to write. Enjoy!

The Dancing Tiger written by Malachy Doyle and illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. A find from the library enjoyed by all of the fine young gents. It's got lovely dreamy pictures and a gentle rhyming text that's fun to read out loud. Sweet but not sappy.

The Seven Silly Eaters written by Mary Ann Hoberman, wonderfully illustrated by Marla Frazee, has been a favorite since the lovely ladies were small. Another rhyming text that's great fun to read aloud. The story of this growing family of picky eaters is charming, and the pictures make the book. I've read this so many times over the years that I've darn near got it by heart, and I still (usually) enjoy reading it just one more time.

Everywhere Babies written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Lovely text, and charming pictures. We enjoy Marla Frazee's illustrations so much that we seek out pictures books she's illustrated. (We've also got Hush, Little Baby.) My baby likes to point at the babies, and I'll admit I get a little teary each time I read "Every day, everywhere, babies are loved..."

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace was a girlhood favorite of mine. I still remember reading about the adventures of imaginative brown-haired Betsy, shy red-haired Tacy, and joining the best friends to turn the inseparable twosome into a tight-knit threesome in the second book in the series (Betsy-Tacy and Tib), pretty blonde Tib. My second lovely lady is so fascinated by this series that she wants to visit the "real" Deep Valley, Lovelace's childhood home in Mankato, Minnesota. It's such a warm feeling to share the books that I loved when I was a girl with a child who feels the same way. The Betsy-Tacy series follows Betsy and her friends from just before Betsy's fifth birthday party (Betsy-Tacy) until Betsy gets married (Betsy's Wedding). I remember losing interest once Betsy and her friends got to high school, but my daughter is still going strong, nearly finished reading Betsy and Joe.

"It's a very good book because it's all about life and growing up," says my lovely lady when asked why you should read Betsy-Tacy.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale (I found a neato annotated version of the original tale here). I just finished pre-reading this book for the oldest lovely lady's upcoming school year reading list. Even though it's a young adult novel, I stayed up waaaay too late reading just one more chapter. I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale. Hale manages to weave the elements of the original tale into her story to create a believeable coming-of-age story that's exciting (villains and sword-play), charming (friendships and true love), and magical without a witch or fairy in sight.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. I started reading this book today. It promises to be interesting. I'm thoroughly enjoying the first chapter, and I'm looking forward to hanging out in the hammock with some iced tea and more about Shakespeare tomorrow afternoon.

My wonderful loving husband is reading a golf book. I'm not writing about it. This is my blog, and I'm declaring a golf book ban.

What are you reading?

Saturday, July 15, 2006


The oldest of the fine young gents, who's five ("Five and a half, Mom!"), and I went to a concert this morning. The Oregon Bach Festival offered a children's program entitled "Happy Birthday, Mr. Mozart". I expected something along the lines of a little music, a little information about Mozart, a little sing-along maybe. We got so much more. A pianist and an Emmy-winning storyteller put on a show that was engaging and entertaining for kids and parents. Not only did we get what we expected, we were treated to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, learned a bit about recorders, and we heard an original poem and some really punny jokes. ("You think that joke's bad, but you'll tell it later," insisted the storyteller. I probably would if I could remember any of the jokes.) My wiggly gent was bouncing in his front-row seat, thrilled by the whole thing. So was I, for that matter. Thrilled, that is. Maybe I bounced a little too.

After the show we walked two blocks to the Saturday Market. We shopped a little (bought some tie dye, naturally) , looked a lot, and decided we were hungry so we headed for the food. It took two trips around, looking at each booth, before we decided that maybe my adventurous eater should try something different and something familiar. He ate all of the seasoned tofu, leaving me to snack on his chicken with rice. While we ate we watched a bad magic show on the stage. Ok, so the guy wasn't so bad, he just needed to work on his patter so that we'd be distracted from thinking about what he's really doing. But hey, I think figured out how to do that rope trick!

Across the street to the Farmer's Market for some berries. My gent was entranced by the guy playing cello on the street corner. Fascinated. We ended up sitting on the pavement listening, munching on mixed berries. I'm not big on sitting on the pavement on a hot day, especially in a skirt, but it's worth it to indulge this love of all kinds of music. Listening to a musician on the street corner is a different experience that hearing music on a CD or going to a concert. It's accessible in a different way. We sat and listened because I want my budding young musician to see that music doesn't always happen on a stage. Music isn't just for folks with recording contracts and agents. Music happens wherever there are musicians to make it. Well, honestly, we did stop to listen for those reasons too, but mostly because we were enjoying the cello. If I'd had a picnic blanket or a camp chair we might have stayed even longer.

Oh, and we bought flowers. Most often I walk by the beckoning flowers and think with regret, "Not today." Too frivolous. I can't eat them or wear them. This day we decided together that flowers will give us happy hearts. Especially golden sunflowers with cheery faces.

Once home the day turned into normal busy weekend family time. We went to a kid festival. It was a typical kid festival, hot and noisy, with crafts and bouncy castles and free prizes. The kids got to sit in a fire truck and a helicopter. That was way cool. Of course, I forgot the camera. Despite the missing camera we all had a fabulous time. We capped off the day with grilled steak and corn, backyard golf, and warm berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

Doesn't get much better than this.

Friday, July 14, 2006


There was a package on my porch yesterday.

Inside was a glass sun and a note: "Just a little something that reminded me of you. Love, B"

It's perfect.

It is the thought that counts. If I were to see that glowing glass sun at a market I would say "Oooooo." If I had the pocket money I might buy it because I like it. A friend saw it, knew I'd say "Oooooo," and sent it to me....and I love it. Because it makes me feel treasured. Because I'll think of her and smile.

B, that sun is hanging in my kitchen window. Thanks sweets. You made my day.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


The smell of lavender on a warm lazy afternoon......heavenly.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Since you cannot do good to all.....

Here's what I did this afternoon. I sewed bags to make school kits for children in Darfur. One of my lovely ladies helped me shop and one of the fine young gents helped me fill the bags.
I was inspired by a column in yesterday's paper about a community challenge-- send 1000 school bags to children in the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa. What the heck, I have a sense of community and compassion for others, right? I had a little extra fabric, notebooks were on sale at Target for only ten cents each, and it might make an interesting project for the kids-- expand their awareness of the world and help them to be grateful for what they have.

As my daughter helped me shop for supplies she started asking questions. Along the lines of "Do I have to do this?" To her credit she asked some really good questions once she got a fuller picture. Loving heart, she wanted to choose sparkly shoelaces to tie the bags so that the children could have something special. Anyway, I started trying to give her a mental picture of what it must be like for the children living in refugee camps. Because she's very literal I started an "Imagine what it would be like if you...." story. Right there in the middle of Target I started imagining. Homes burned. Sickness. Heat and dirt and crowding. Mothers harmed and fathers killed. Fear and homesickness and despair. Imagine what it would be like if my daughter, the light of my heart..... I had to stop talking for a minute because suddenly the idea of my precious babies, well let's just say that I had to shut up so that I wouldn't turn into the weird lady sobbing in the school supplies aisle.

My fine young gent, so happy to help, asked lots of good questions too. "Mom, are the kids Christians?" (I don't know, mostly Muslim, I think.) "Mom, why did the bad guys burn their houses?" (I don't know, bunny. There's a war and people do bad things in wars.) "Mom, why do people do bad things in wars?" (Oh baby, I wish I knew. I wish I knew.) Now I am in tears again.

Two things occur to me as I write this. One, thanks to the internet I now know the answers to some of my kids' questions. I'll tell them as much as I know tomorrow. But I still don't know why people do such terrible things to one another. And two, my awareness of the world has stretched a little, and not comfortably. And, oh I am grateful for everything I have. So grateful.

I look at the completed bags, just two little fabric bags with some notebooks and pencils, and they seem so small. So insignificant. Then I remember our school motto: Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. (St. Augustine) Usually I think of this as a reminder to care for the people I meet, for the children who bless my home, for people I actually see as I go about my life. Instead, today, we paid special attention to two children who by accident of circumstance are brought close to our hearts. Whose pleasure at being offered a small gift is something we'll have to imagine. Whose lives are unimaginable. All I have to offer is a little cloth bag, some school supplies and some tears. For today since I cannot do good to all, I can help do a tiny bit of good to a few and that will have to be enough.

Peace. Hug your little ones and your loved ones tight today.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

White picket fence

I painted the fence today! All by myself. I am not so handy but I decided I was tired of driving into the driveway thinking "Ugh. That fence needs to be painted." I started trying to paint the fence by hand. After an afternoon of that I convinced my husband I needed a paint sprayer. Today I was able to paint in ten minutes what had taken me over two hours by hand. The noisy paint sprayer didn't give me as much time to ponder, though. Here's what was going through my head (besides "I am never going to finish this") while I painted not-so-merrily away with the paintbrush a few days ago.....

When we bought our home I saw the white picket fence and laughed. How corny. What a cliche! "The fence will need to go," I thought to myself. "Maybe not right away, but it's soooooo not me." I loved everything about this house except that silly fence. The white picket fence seemed to represent to me some outmoded idea of the ideal American family, a sort of cutesy Leave It to Beaver-ish symbol. As a blended homeschooling family with five children, one with a disability, a tattooed mama and a work-at-home dad, we don't seem to quite fit that stereotype. At least not the one in my head.

Gradually this house has become familiar. Finding the light switches is automatic, we've filled the empty spaces, we brought a baby home to this house, we know what day to take out the trash, we've celebrated holidays and played in the back yard.....and this house became our home. Our family has blossomed. Sharing the experience of turning a new house into our home has changed us. We've meshed, become closer, blended more. Maybe we are an ideal family after all. Not because we match any kind of stereotype or because we're representative of other families, but just because we are family.

Darned if that silly fence hasn't grown on me.

So come on over. It's the white house with the white picket fence.

Friday, July 07, 2006

In Which We Discover Poohsticks

Pooh had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river.
"Bother", said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge and he went to get another fir cone which had a rhyme to it. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, so he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him... and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too. "That's funny," said Pooh. "I dropped it on the other side," said Pooh, "and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?" And he went back for some more fir-cones.
It did. It kept on doing it. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as they were both the same size, he didn't know if it was the one which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one big one and one little one, and the big one came out first, which was what he had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what he had said it would do, so he had won twice ... and when he went home for tea he had won thirty-six and lost twenty-eight, which meant that he was--that he had--well, you take twenty-eight from thirty-six, and that's what he was. Instead of the other way around.
And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark. ~A.A. Milne,
The House at Pooh Corner

Playing Poohsticks has become a firmly established nature day tradition. I'm not sure quite how it started, none of us can quite remember. Perhaps on the particular day that we were crossing our favorite footbridge we'd just finished reading the Poohsticks chapter ("In Which Pooh Invents a New Game and Eeyore Joins In") in The House at Pooh Corner, or maybe one of the fine young gents had picked up a stick and I was looking for a gentle way to get rid of it before it turned into a sword or the like. Doesn't matter really. What does matter is that Poohsticks has become a delightful game, a lovely peaceful way to begin and end an afternoon of picking blackberries and exploring the park.

How to Play Poohsticks:

  • Find a footbridge and a river.

  • Gather sticks. (Sticks are great fun!)

  • Run to the middle of the bridge. Find the upstream side of the bridge and watch the water sliding slowly under the bridge.

  • Drop your sticks on the count of three...1,2,3! Try Eeyore's key to success: Drop your stick in a "twitchy sort of way".

  • Run or meander, depending on the sort of day, across to the other side of the bridge and wait for your stick to float out from underneath.

  • The person whose stick comes out first is the winner. But really, hanging over the rails waiting for your stick is the fun part.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A perfect day at the Poohsticks bridge