Tuesday, October 31, 2006


A freezy frosty evening. The girls went trick-or-treating with loving husband, so we were on our own. It was perfect for the fine young knights. They had a grand time walking down the street in the dark, ringing doorbells and greeting the neighbors.

As I wrestled the mouse costume over the youngest gent's double layers of clothes, I realized we won't have another trick-or-treat with a little mouse. Practically, that's probably for the best. The poor costume has certainly seen better days. It's a little ragged and the ears are kind of floppy-- the little guy was mistaken for a sheep, an elephant, and three times for a bunny. C'mon, folks, since when does a bunny have round ears? This year I didn't have time or patience to re-sew that cute little Swiss cheese bow tie when it was ripped off and thrown to the ground. So he's got just the safety pin instead. He liked the safety pin, go figure.

I remember the mouse costume on this round middle gent, before he grew up and wanted to carry a sword and wear a cape. When this little gent was the one who ripped the bow off and threw it on the floor. He wasn't sure about this whole mouse thing, and refused to let me near him with the face paint. But he was absolutely delighted when he had the big "Aha!" about trick-or-treat.
I remember when the oldest gent wanted to be a mouse for Halloween. The ears stood up and he was delighted by his costume. He got so excited that he dived on the floor and tore the bow tie right off. I remember when this curly-haired gent and thought he was supposed to go in the houses when people opened the door. When people looked at the costume and immediately said, "Oh what a cute little mouse!" and thought he was a girl.
I got a little misty tonight watching the youngest, my baby, walk down the street with his brothers. No riding in the wagon for him, at least not at first. He thinks of himself as a Big Boy. Where did my babies go? I know that we tell our children that they'll always be our babies, but it's not really true. They grow up and away from us every day, so quickly. I wish that I could hang on to these sweet baby days just a little longer. Tonight I know I should get rid of the costume. We don't really need it and it's not worth saving. But I think I'll hang the mouse back in the closet, just for a little while.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Definitely next on the reading list

Carrie at Not Alone commented on my Peter Pan post asking if I had read Peter Pan in Scarlet. I'd seen the title floating around, but that's about as far as I'd gotten. I had no idea that this book was written by one of our favorite authors, Geraldine McCaughrean. We've read several of McCaughrean's books as free reading choices and read-alouds, including retellings of The Odyssey and Canterbury Tales. (This link will get you to McCaughrean's offical site and her own Peter Pan in Scarlet site, as well as the "official" site of Peter Pan in Scarlet.)

From this article in the Washington Post (thanks to Mom for sending the link!):
Above all, though, what distinguishes this book is the quality McCaughrean has praised in Barrie: a relish for language. She, too, unleashes sentences that crack like whips: "They watched the days go by like trains." "Where the bee sneaks, there snuck I." "The mast looked so tall you might climb up it with a candlesnuffer and put out all the stars." And she shares his weakness for sly, adult jokes, such as when the Twins insist on naming one landmark Twin Peaks. She reminds you how funny the original still is, a century on.

We're in the middle of the original Peter Pan, enjoying the humor, both the sly and the slapstick. (Oh, how the gents giggled when Captain Hook burned his bum on the mushroom chimney!) I'd love to read a Peter Pan story with even a shadow of the wit of the original. Peter and the Starcatchers was a great adventure, enjoyed by all. But it was like reading an action movie, albeit a well-written one-- a very concrete and straightforward story. It was missing the subtlety and fun, and most of all the magical wildness of Peter Pan and Neverland. We'll probably take a break from our Peter Pan read-alouds once I finish reading Barrie's original. We'll be ready to move on. But that doesn't mean that I can't read about Peter Pan and his new adventures on my own! (Wouldn't it just be too cheesy to put the book in the kids' Christmas basket after I read it?)


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Klimt Study, Part 2

In honor of this week's artist study I drank coffee out of my Klimt mug with its orange-y "The Kiss" every morning. You can see our artist shelf above. When we begin a new artist study I cut out or print pictures of the artist's work to put on the walls and put out books about our featured artist. At the library this summer I happened upon a picture book about Klimt, Klimt and His Cat by Bernice Capatti. I picked it up again a week before we started this study. Perfect for the fine young gents, Klimt and His Cat is charming, Klimt's story told from the viewpoint of his cat. I asked the lovely ladies to read it to the fine young gents in the afternoons just for fun. I requested another child-friendly Klimt book from the library, Silver, Gold and Precious Stones: Adventures in Art, for the lovely ladies. This is a beautiful, beautiful book. I wish we owned it. I saw the kids looking at it throughout the week, and I read it out loud to them while they worked on their collages.

Before we actually create our own art, we look at the artist's work, read about their life and art, discuss what we see in the paintings. That sounds so...rigid, is the word that comes to mind, but it's really not like that. Picture us sitting on the couch, or showing off a favorite painting at the table, or the kids reading a book together. I used this Kinderart lesson plan as a jumping off point, for materials and a loose idea of what direction we'd like to go, and we made some Klimt-ish art. The lovely thing about the lesson plan was that I was able to use it nearly as written for the young gents, and adapt it for the two young ladies-- simplify for the non-interested artist whose only requirement was that she create something with the material, and intensify it for the artist-in-residence.

Lovely lady, the elder. She struggled with the idea of creating patterns, of imitating. As she helped set out the supplies, I asked her to try to imitate Klimt's art as closely as she could, not because I want to squelch her creativity (no chance of that!). Rather, I wanted to give her the experience of working within specific boundaries to find out what it might be like to create different kinds of art. I want to challenge her, move her a little out of her comfort zone, and paradoxically that means in this instance, asking her to imitate. Pattern and even a semblance of symmetry was difficult for this free-form young lady who's accustomed to going with the flow. The end value of this exercise? She learned a lot about how she sees art, what's comfortable for her, and what's not. And she likes what she created. Her next step is to create a Klimt-like painting on canvas. We're both kind of excited about the idea.

Lovely lady of the rolling eyes, the "Do I have to do this dumb project?" artist. The answer is "Yes. Now sit down and create! And have fun while you do it" Just kidding. I am waiting for the day, however, when she finally realizes that once she starts a project she usually enjoys it. She's got fine motor and attention difficulties, not uncommon in children with autism. I think years of being around kids who can draw and write better than she can, along with a very short attention span, has made art a not very motivating activity for her. All I ask of her is that she join us and make an effort to keep from huffing and puffing. I love her picture. It looks lovely on the bulletin board with the others. They're all so different even though the kids were given the same materials and directions.

Fine young gent, 5. He's got an eye for patterns in art. This wiggly young guy sees far more while he's wiggling away than he lets on. Actually, he loves to look at art books with his big sister. And he notices the finer points of what he sees. He wasn't very excited about the whole glue and shapes thing. But he really did get the idea of using repeating shapes to create patterns. He spent quite a long time on his picture.

His younger brother (3) impressed me, even though we lost his picture. His only real requirement was that he stay quiet while I read and not throw anything on the floor. He spent quite a while on his picture too, carefully sorting through the shapes to find just the right ones. He created suns and flowers, then drew huge spirals over the whole thing.

Another piece by the eldest young lady, just playing with the materials. In addition to her project we did an exercise in looking at art thoughtfully, just for fun. She enjoyed looking at Klimt's work, but she prefers the later more colorful pieces to the gold mosaic-style. She chose a potrait she really liked and spent some time just looking-- this piece, Portrait of M├Ąda Primavesi, really caught her eye. I asked her to think about the painting in the same way that we look at the poetry: 1. Just look. 2. Look again. Jot down whatever she notices. Patterns, lack of pattern? Color? Mood? How did the painting affect her personally? 3. Write down at least three questions that she has as she views the piece. Interesting-- as an artist, she had questions that wouldn't have occurred to me. We had a wonderful discussion of Klimt's beautiful portraits, the way that the girl is standing in the painting we looked at, the colors and seemingly intentional vagueness of the surroundings. I love this job.

Jackson Pollock and Action Painting here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

On the bookshelf

Short, but absolutely delightful with a quiet wit that will keep you coming back for more. The second in a trilogy-- equally charming as a part of the set or as a stand-alone.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Peter Pan

"I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island; for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all; but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needlework, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling your tooth out yourself, and so on; and either these are a part of the island or they are other maps showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still." (Chapter One)

I didn't realize until this morning that the beloved version of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan I'd read as a child, and remember so fondly, was abridged. Honestly, it makes perfect sense now, since it was in a whole collection of stories (followed by Rackety-Packety House, another favorite). But today...I was absolutely charmed by Barrie's account of good mothers tidying up their children's minds in the night so that when the children awake in the morning, "the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on." We laughed at silly proud Mr. Darling and his medicine, and felt so sorry for poor Nana tied up in the yard. "I don't remember any of this," I thought as I read. I think the version I read skipped the first chapters entirely, except for the part where Peter loses his shadow in the slammed window. I can't believe what I missed! What a shame I never read this version as a child. On the other hand, I'll get to discover a story that I already love with my children.

We are all in for a treat.

Added the next day: Last night I dreamed of Neverland all night long. I dreamed I was Peter Pan, then Tinkerbell, flying over the island. Not the Disney Peter Pan. My dreams prompted a breakfast table discussion of what it might be like to live the reality of the fantasy of a never-ending childhood.

Today we read of Peter trying to attach his shadow with soap, a petulant fairy, flight out the nursery window, Nana and the Darlings dashing up the stairs too late. The fine young gents are outside this afternoon, playing at Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. There's a fairy sketch on the schoolwork sitting in my basket, and someone dug the fairy wings out from the bottom of the dress-up box. This story has captured us.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Artist Study: Klimt

The Maiden (1912-13)

"I have the gift of neither the spoken nor the written word, especially if I have to say something about myself or my work. Whoever wants to know something about me -as an artist, the only notable thing- ought to look carefully at my pictures and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do." ~Gustav Klimt

I remember three things from the introductory art course I took in college: I remember that I liked the class, that we sat in the dark a lot looking at slides of art and that one picture was of a bridge, and that I got an "A" in the class. That's the extent of my fine art education. Fast forward a few years. We've got a gifted artist in the family. Art education isn't something we can neglect. We've farmed out art classes that will teach her how to create her own art: oil painting, watercolors, drawing. But time and resources dictate that art history and appreciation need to happen at home. Which means that I get to teach art.

I was completely intimidated by the idea.

Then I had a big "Aha!" My job isn't to teach her the finer points of technique and analysis. That's what art books are for, right? She wouldn't enjoy my blabbering much and I'd probably screw it up anyway. She's in middle school, a time when young folk are exploring who they are in the world, what they like and don't like, where their passions lie. It's a time when they are discovering their own reactions to the world (and the world to them). My job is to teach this lovely lady to appreciate art, to look at it critically, to explore and test her own reactions. That I can do.

In a time where I drink my coffee out of a mug wrapped around by an orangey reproduction Klimt's "The Kiss" and we can view famous works of art on our monitors with the click of a button, we may be losing the "appreciation" part of art appreciation. In this video-game, television, entertainment-saturated world, I think we've forgotten how to look at works of art critically. How wonderful it is that we access some of the most famous, some of the most beautiful, some of the most thought-provoking works of art so easily. But the flip side is that these pieces become commonplace. We forget to stop and really look, really think about them. My job now, for this lovely young person, is to teach her to slow down and look. Really look. Look with her eyes and her brain and her heart. And then help her find the language to talk about what she sees and thinks and feels. That I can do.

We're studying, exploring, reflecting upon Gustav Klimt and his (child-friendly) art this week. iKlimt.com is a neat site with a timeline, biography, and Klimt's drawings and paintings. Caution: Lovely lady won't be looking at this site. Well, maybe the timeline (cool) and the biography (cool too) with my supervision. But many of Klimt's works aren't exactly G-rated. Some are more like X. So proceed with caution. Make sure there aren't any small children around if you decide to start browsing.
Part two of our Klimt study at the end of the week once we've completed our project. (Read about it here.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What We're Reading: October

Pumpkins by Mary Lyn Ray is a story about a man who loves a field. When a For Sale sign appears in the field one day, the man sells everything he owns, but he still doesn't have enough money to buy the field. So he plants pumpkins. He sends the pumpkins all over the world, asking kings and congresses to buy the pumpkins for one dollar each. It's really a story about simplicity and having enough. The illustrations are lovely, the writing is simple, the story is charming. Pumpkins is a non-Halloween pumpkin story, another library find that we read so often that we finally bought it-- which means that it's a story that I can stand to read over and over and over.

Typically on our library visits, one gent or another wanders to the "E" section and chooses a Lois Ehlert book. (Watch a video interview with Lois Ehlert, or read the transcript). The straightforward text and distinctive, vivid illustrations make her a family favorite. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf was our pick a couple weeks ago. We read it before going on our leaf walk yesterday, and I've renewed the book so that we can read it again this coming week and make the bird treats on the inside back cover. Other favorites by Ehlert: Growing Vegetable Soup, Cuckoo, and Pie in the Sky.

Even the three-year-old gent is thoroughly enjoying our lunchtime read-aloud, Peter and the Starcatchers (Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson). "Mom, can we read about Black Stache?" he asks. Written as a "prequel" to the classic story of Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatchers is full of pirates, magic, mermaids and the like. There's even a giant croc. I bought the book after reading the title on a message board several times in repsonse to questions like: "What do your boys like to read?" I wish I'd read them J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, a childhood favorite that I read many times, before we'd started Peter and the Starcatchers. I've combed my bookshelves and can't believe that we don't own a copy. It's on our library request list. I'll read it next.

The elder of the lovely ladies and I are reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. This is her first real experience with reading thoughtfully, having to discuss the ideas that go beyond the events of the story. Last year we just focused on reading and experiencing as many different types of literature as possible, shoring up her enjoyment of reading again and working on slowing down to think about the content. She was a little uncertain about taking on this challenge, but now that she's getting the hang of reading carefully and considering the implications of what she's reading, she's got some great thoughts. The Giver is a fantastic book for introducing this discussion process: the story is straightforward, gripping, and there's lots of "meat" for discussion. Set in what initially appears to be a utopian future society in which everyone has a role to play and there is no pain or war, The Giver has created opportunities for us to dicuss diversity and the choices that societies make when we balance individual rights against the rights of the community as a whole, the role of euphemism in language, and the presence (or absence) of pain, suffering and grief in our lives. We're about halfway through. Study guides and more here, including interviews with Lowry. As our lovely lady considers herself an author, we're particularly interested in reading the writer's thoughts about a book we've finished reading, so we'll be reading the interviews with Lowry once we've finished reading The Giver. I was particularly moved by Lowry's speech (second link on the page) entitled "The Beginning of Sadness."

Friday, October 20, 2006


Another lovely fall day, so warm that if it weren't for the changing leaves we might be fooled into believing that it's May instead of October. We headed to the pumpkin patch today.

So many pumpkins to choose from. After a bumpy tractor ride, the lovely ladies and fine young gents each chose a carving pumpkin from the field. So much more satisfying than standing in the grocery store parking lot. Choosing a giant pumpkin from our own garden might be even more satisfying, but I haven't got a tractor, wagon, or bales of hay for seats, so who knows?

Feeding the goats is always a highlight. For most of us. Lovely lady, 11, has a senstive smeller, so she stays far far away.

When we got home we went for a leaf walk around the neighborhood. We have so many lovely trees. The ladies and gents were oooohing and aaaahing over the color and variety.

"Look, Mom, look at this one!"

"I found an acorn!"

"Look what's inside here!"

"Are these seeds?"

We had a nice time just meandering along, enjoying one our own company. I have great kids.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Loving husband: Hello?

Me: The boys have a dentist appointment this morning and I am running late and when I turned on the dining room light the breaker tripped, so instead of making breakfast, I am peering at the #$%^*%$ box with a $^%#% flashlight.

LH: Oh yeah, I've done that before. It happens to me all the time.

Me: Um, not helpful. I was hoping perhaps that you could give me a little more direction than that.

LH: Oh. Well, did you look to see if any of the circuits were flipped?

Me: Did I just mention that I am in the %^#&$# garage with the $^#*%^%$# flashlight?

LH: Oh, yeah. Well, did you see any?

Me, trying not to scream: <deep breath> I did not realize that we had so many of these stupid little buttons that we're apparently not using because they're already off. I have no idea which ones are off on purpose. I was calling because I already knew you've been through this before. I was hoping you'd remember which one it might be.

LH: Oh. Nope. Did you try the big box and the little one?

Me: Yes.

LH: What about the one by the attic stairs?

Me: Yes, twice.

LH: It might be that one.

Me, trying not to scream again: It's not. See, I am flipping them AGAIN, and....oh, there they go. Why couldn't they have done that the first time??...Wait a minute...they went off again....nope, that was the kids. Ok, they're on now. Thanks honey. I love you, bye.

Me: All right guys, let's go!

Gent: Moooom, do we haaave to?

Me: Yes.

Gent: Whhhyyyyyy?

Me: Because I am the meanest mom in the world, and I say so, that's why.

Gent: I love you, Mom.

Youngest gent: Momma!

Me: What, love?

Gent: Momma!

Me: What?

Gent: Momma!

Me: What?
(And so on....)

Me: Did you remember to lock the garage door behind you?

Older lovely lady: Umm....yes?

Me: The garage door really needs to be locked, are you sure you locked it? Oh, it looks like the door's still open, will you please close and lock it?

LL: Just a minute. (Gets out of the car, goes inside the garage. We all wait. And wait. Finally I get out and go into the garage.)

Me: What are you doing, honey?

LL: Locking the door.

Me: This door? The garage door right here?

LL: Oh. Yeah. (Locks and closes door. We get back in the car.)

Me, dawning realization: Oh nooooooo. You didn't lock the door that goes from the garage into the house, did you?

LL: No.

Me, sinking feeling: Then what were you doing in there?

LL: Locking the door.

Me: The door that leads into the house from the garage?

LL: No.

Me: So you were locking that garage door that I can see from here, the one I'm pointing at, right?

LL: Ummm.....(pause)......no?

Me: Listen carefully. Did you lock the inside door that we use to go into the house from the garage? The one I don't have a key for?

LL: Umm, I might have.

Me, leaning my head on the steering wheel trying not to cry: Oooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhh.

(Fortunately this story has a happy ending. I'd left the back door unlocked, so I was able to unlock the other door. Otherwise we might have ended up sleeping in the mailbox, because that's the only other key I've got on my spare set of keys.)

Lovely lady, the younger, at bedtime: Look what I made!

Me: What is it?

LL: A list. A list of things to do to be nice.

Me: Wonderful. (Hug her.) What a great idea!

LL: Yeah, I decided to make the list because I don't want to go to hell when I die.

Me: Oh sweetie, you have such a good heart...

LL, interrupting: But Mom, my sister said that if I'm not nice I'll go to hell.

Me, hugging her: You've got a good heart. I'm pretty sure that you're not going to go to hell for stomping up the stairs.

LL: But she said. If I don't start being good, I'll go to hell.

Me, making a mental note to talk to her sister first thing tomorrow morning: Sweetheart, you try so hard to be such a good girl. I really don't want you to worry about hell tonight, ok. Let's really have a heart-to-heart all together tomorrow. For now....

LL, interrupting: Mom, what's heaven like?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Great Debate

The results of the debate of earthshattering importance are now in. Actually they've been in for a while. I've got a brain like swiss cheese these days, so it's taken me a while to remember to post this. Or maybe, more accurately, my brain's like a full-to-the-brim glass of water...for every new bit that I've got to remember, something just drips right over the side. So I kept forgetting to write about the results of my informal poll.

Legos win hands down.

Clearly most of the respondents, whether online or in my face-to-face life, don't own those super pointy little Hot Wheels, all spikes and sharp stuff. Or at least they've never stepped on one in the dark at three in the morning. (That makes it hurt even more.)

The delay in posting the results had nothing to do with the fact that most people agreed with my wonderful husband. Nothing, I say.

I told him I won. Either he really doesn't read my blog or he's a very very smart man-- smart enough to keep his mouth shut, anyway.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Garden Science

It's one of those fantastically gorgeous fall days. It rained yesterday, so everything is nice and damp. We don't get those glowing fall colors that you see in fall calendar pictures, not here in the valley at least. But the trees are beautiful, half-changed, the muted rusts and reds and orangey-golds mingled with shades of green. Our neighbor's tree, the one across the street, has one golden fork and one green.

This afternoon the lovely ladies were away. I sent the fine young gents outside to take advantage of the last of this lovely perfect fall sunshine before the rain and gloom sets in for the winter. They zoomed around the deck on their scooters, silk-scarves-turned-capes waving behind them. Today their names are Speedy, Zipper and the Champ. I don't dare call them by name-- I'm corrected with an impatient "Moo-oom! I'm Speedy, remember?"

I started my fall garden cleanup, pulling the weeds and vines, harvesting the last of the decent tomatoes, and hunting down stray pumpkins. I found a couple teeny-tiny green pumpkins hiding in the tomatoes, and I'll be eating fried green tomatoes for dinner tonight. Yum!

The Champ was fascinated and repelled by his first up close encounter with an earthworm. He held it briefly, warily, then pronounced it "Uck!" But he watched as it squirmed itself back into the soil. Speedy and Zipper watched a spider eat some kind of tiny bug it caught. Speedy-- or was he calling himself Zipper? The oldest gent, anyway-- regaled us with the gruesome details of exactly how a garden spider devours its victims. A bit later Zipper (Speedy?) found a ladybug in the rosemary, probably a descendant of the ones we bought and released when we moved to our white-picket-fence home. He asked me if ladybugs can go in the rain, which led to a discussion about where ladybugs go in the winter (I suspect our bathroom walls harbor a fair number), and I promised him that in the winter when I see ladybugs sheltering themselves in our bathroom I'll show him.

I love the natural teaching opportunities offered in the garden. I'm amazed by the attention my active gents give to these everyday miracles, completely absorbed by sights I'd normally pass by or throw out without much more than a glance. It's such a joy to follow their curiosity about the world around them. We all examined the roots of the weeds I'd pulled, noted how different plants had different kinds of roots and seeds--Why do you think that might be? Oh, these gents are such sharp cookies. They must pay attention to some of the things I say, and they've got great ideas of their own. We looked at what happens to the plants in the garden as the cool nights start to take their toll. The guys who bounce their way around the house can sit still watching the busy ants for what seems like forever. I never thought I'd see a spider and say "Hey, guys! Come look!" Or that I'd stop in the middle of a task to sit with a child and just watch a worm dig, totally caught up in the moment myself.

I have dirt under my fingernails and my hands smell like rosemary. Those tomatoes are going to be mighty tasty. It's been a good day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


So good friends,
Wherever you may roam,
You are welcome in my heart and home.

Good food, better company. It was a lovely weekend.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver
And the other's gold.

Hard to believe this picture was taken twenty(ish) years ago. I love these women. Can't wait to see you this weekend. I'll bring the goofy cardboard animals.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I'm changing my name....


"What, bunny?"










"What? What do you want, honey?"

From now on I will be known as "the parent formerly known as Mom."

The symbol for my name will look suspiciously like a small child with duct tape over his mouth.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reason #12: Playing in the mud

Playing in the mud....that's what my boys did this afternoon. We're having one of those glorious stretches of sunny fall weather. Clear, sunny, and warm with just a bite of chill in the air. I had plans to keep the fine young gents occupied but when I looked out the window, the plans went out the window. We called the neighbors and headed into the back yard to play in the mud.

The kids had a fabulous time making a river-- first under the filbert tree, then in the garden. Neighbor mom and I had a relaxed time chatting in the sun. The kids played and squabbled and worked it out and ran around and golfed and picked flowers and splashed in the water. Armed with two garden hoses and a whole lot of dirt they created a darn fine river and a really cool mud puddle. We were all mud-spattered by the end of the afternoon.

Reason #12: Time for good old-fashioned play.

Sure, we do lots of teaching and projects and structured learning activities, but time to kick back and just play is not simply an incidental benefit in the way we've structured our homeschool or our family life. The amount of free time we've allowed our children is purposeful. We are a busy family, granted. But even though the Mom Taxi is in service nearly every day, we've worked at making choices that ensure that all the ladies and gents have plenty of time to explore and daydream and dress up and draw and jump and follow their noses. Time to be distracted by "shiny stuff." Time to sit and do nothing. Time to play Hot Wheels and Legos and dolls, sometimes all at once. Time to splash in the mud or to build forts.

One of the things that I've learned from homeschooling is that time is precious. Being home together as a family helps us to guard that precious time. We've seen our oldest lovely lady blossom. After a hellish year of middle school that was all school and homework, she has time for reading and writing and drawing again. Our younger lovely lady is more relaxed because she can take breaks when she needs them. The gents are best friends because they spend so much time just playing. I love seeing the messy creative funny things they come up with when they're left to their own devices. I love these messy funny creative young folk, their discoveries and their playfulness and their wit. Who knew you could make so many things with tape? Or that lavender flowers make a great snack? Or that the worms in the garden have names and personalities?

After an afternoon of mud play I sat down to check my email. A friend sent me the link to a CNN article, discussing benefits of unstructured play. What great timing. I don't know that homeschooling is necessarily the answer for all families to the dilemma parents face when trying to balance activity time and down time, but for now, for our family, the answer is clear.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Cheerful Willing Helper

Mother's Little Helper, Jessie Willcox Smith

Today I opened my mouth and my mother fell out.

A lovely lady grumped about doing her chores this morning and I said brightly, "A cheerful willing helper is worth her weight in gold!"

Rolling eyes. "Mooooo-ooooooooooooom."

(Note to my mom: Stop here. This is where you get to laugh and feel satisfied that your curse has been fulfilled. You know, the "hope-you-have-a-kid-who-blah-blah-blah-something-something"-- sorry, that's usually as far as I listened. Anyway, Mom, stop reading now. Call me and I'll tell you about cute things the kids have been doing or something.)

As lovely lady stomped off, I stood stunned and near tears. I couldn't believe I'd said that. Next thing you know, I'll be at the bottom of the stairs warbling "It's time to get up, It's time to get up this moooorning!" to the reveille tune at breakfast time. Now my children are going to make fun of me when they grow up, just like my sisters and I laugh at the dumb annoying things Mom said when we were kids!

Lest all of you out there in cyber-land feel sorry for my mother right now, picturing her weeping before her monitor at the thought that her beloved daughters that she so lovingly raised have been make fun of her behind her back....don't. First of all, she deserves it. I told her to stop reading, and more to the point, she actually used to chirp sunshiney crap like "A cheerful willing helper..." and "A stitch in time saves nine." Secondly, we don't make fun of her behind her back. We make fun of her to her face. By now she's developed the tough bristly hide of a warthog. And if she locks herself in the closet and cries later, well, like I said: She used to actually spout that stuff at us. She should be begging our forgiveness and paying our therapists instead of crying in the closet.

Hmmph. Now I've got that song in my head, the reveille one. I wonder what my kids will laugh about when they start talking about the things that their crazy ol' Mom used to do.

(I love you, Mom. I really want to be just like you when I grow up.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Day in the Life: Sick Day

8 a.m. My perceptive husband takes one look at me and sends me back to bed.

9:30 a.m. (or thereabouts) I've been laying in a limbo of headache haze for a while. I try getting up. "I can be miserable and get something done just as well as I can be miserable lying here in bed." Wrong. After about 10 minutes of upright-ness I feel like I want to barf or crush my head. That's when it hits me: Homeschool teachers don't get to call in a sub and stay home. Crap. Now what?

While I'm in bed. Here's what:

Lovely lady, 13, is a gem. She helps with lunch and helps her brothers. Before groaning back up the long steep stairway I asked her to do the schoolwork she could complete independently, and to fill the rest of her time with some catch-up work. She does.

Lovely lady, 11, with autism, gets herself dressed and offers me an ice pack. After another hour in bed I venture upright and creep downstairs, holding my head so that it wouldn't fall off, to write her a list of independent schoolwork. In order. Things must go in order for this lovely young lady or it throws her so off-balance that there is much screaming and gnashing of teeth. She works her way through the entire list. By herself. If I didn't think my head would fly to pieces, I'd cheer.

The gents watch television. Given my druthers, most days anyway, I'd just as soon haul the t.v. to the curb. Today I want to hug the guy that invented this magic box that leaves young children gape-mouthed and quiet. Loving husband lets them watch a couple shows while he cleans the kitchen, then takes the gents outside to play backyard golf.

Noonish. I creep downstairs again. I don't feel like I'm going to barf, that's good. Loving husband has a work meeting, which he volunteers to cancel. I lay my head on the table and whisper weakly, "No, I know you need to work." I mean to come across as brave and cheerful. I don't. But I do mean it, because he does need to work. I leave my head on the table because it feels better that way. Loving husband brings me coffee before he heads out to the office.

1 or so. I've made it as far as the recliner. I put in a movie for the fine young gents, Ocean Oasis, a library find. It's educational, so it counts as science, right? I crawl to the couch and the gents cuddle around me. The gents find it highly amusing that I'm watching the movie with my eyes closed.

Around 2. The movie's over. Wow, neato! It was pretty good. The aching in my head has subsided to a dull roar. Tylenol is my new best friend. Lovely lady, 11, takes youngest gent off to play and read stories so that I can get a break. Kindergarten gent and I water his bean experiment and look at his science notebook. He reads me a story about...something. I'm listening, but not really.

3:00. Finally functional. I head to the basement for a basic piano practice with kindergarten gent, peel an apple for preschool(ish) gent, put the toddler gent to bed, help a lovely lady prepare a petri dish and give feedback on her writing assignment (beautifully written but off-topic), and get the other lovely lady ready for her girls group.

The day worked out after all. We all learned at least one new thing today. We're not horribly behind. We'll have a busy day tomorrow catching up, but....that's homeschool life.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Art of Looking Sideways

"We've talked before about divergent thinking and visual learners," my mom said, handing me a hefty book. "You and the lovely ladies might enjoy this one."

She was right.

The art of looking sideways by Alan Fletcher has already provoked a couple interesting discussions and whiled away a few spare minutes. From the inside cover: "The art of looking sideways is a primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain and the imagination....concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual, and the limitless resources of the human mind." Sounds like just the ticket for our young divergent-thinking visual-spatial learners. Fletcher notes in his brief introduction to the book, "Most books written on visual matters are authored by those who analyze rather than experience. Many are hard work and littered with academic jargon...concerned with the mechanics rather than the thoughts, with the match rather than the fire." The art of looking sideways has certainly ignited a spark in our house. It's not particularly meant to be read sequentially, starting at the first page and ending with the last; instead, we've been dipping into the pages at random, always with anticipation. What will we find next? Writings and quotes on the human brain (p. 121)? A visual puzzle...what looks like a red triangle imagining itself as a curled curvy playful blue shape (p.157)? A photo of a plate and bowl made of fur (p. 453)? Writings on symmetry, visual paradox, design, sign language, imagination? Cartoons, photos, sketches, paintings?

Definitely a keeper, Mom, thanks. I'll enjoy exploring The art of looking sideways with all of my sideways-lookers.

A little off topic, but while I'm thinking of my fine and lovely young sideways-lookers, for an interesting article about gifted visual-spatial learners, read this article. The oldest lovely lady is strongly visual-spatial, an artistic intuitive whole-picture thinker and learner. She can sometimes leap to the solution to a problem with no idea how she got there, going from A to Z in a thought. Sometimes, though, she jumps from A to L and gets stuck there, or goes from A to 12 or to blue or to yesterday. She has no idea how she got there either, and no idea how to get back. It's a challenge to modify my strongly auditory-sequential teaching style to meet her needs, and to patiently help her develop some of her sequential thinking skills so that she can evaluate whether or not the leap she's taken has gone in the right direction. (My biggest challenge, the patience part and the skills-teaching part.) It's a good thing she's patient. I expect that the second of the young gents, my sweet and gentle 3-year-old, will benefit from having his older sister play guinea pig.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Day in the Life: And to think that I saw it on Sunshine Acres Street!

A typical day at Sunshine Acres Academy:

I awake peacefully and fully at 4 a.m. I bounce out of bed to go for a long morning run and do my morning meditation, then I feed the cats and the....um...goats and the pigs and the sheep and the mules and the geese....yeah, that's it.

I cheerfully bounce into the gleaming kitchen, beautifully dressed and hair styled with a sort of artless whimsy, to prepare a full five-course hot breakfast from scratch for my gleaming children, who had all cheerfully risen at the rooster's crow. (Clearly, we're a cheerful bouncy family.) Naturally, they've cheerfully made their beds and dressed in sensible and lovely organic cotton clothing and done the laundry and mopped the floors and re-organized the basement. On Fridays they also strip and refinish the wood floors.

My kindergartener gets out his physics and geometry and Latin. Right now he's doing a unit study of Shakespeare's sonnets while his sister writes her own sonnets and his little brother immerses himself in his current passion, rocket science. We finish school in about an hour, leaving the rest of the day to engage in stimulating intellectual discussion......


....while the children create beautiful art and music as I harvest our nutritious vegetarian five-course meal from our organic garden.....

(Hush, I can hear you!)

All right. My mother is laughing so hard that I can hear her from here. My sisters are snorting and laughing tears. Knock it off you guys.

I do so get up at 4 a.m.

Sigh. The gig is up. The only time in recent memory I've been up at 4 a.m. was the time I showed up at my sister's house at 4 a.m. to leave for Eastern Oregon. (Guess whose husband and children were still in bed?) And I don't think I've ever bounced out of bed. Fallen, yes, and perhaps bounced a little when I hit the floor.

Uh, the rest of the stuff is true. Yeah. No, really.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jayber Crow

I've been participating in the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Lots of great book recommendations. As if I need more book recommendations. Ha!

Once in a while you pick up a book that you instantly recognize, like meeting a new friend. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry was recommended here, at Seasonal Soundings, as a part of the Saturday Review. I picked it up from the library on Friday and started reading it yesterday afternoon:
I never put up a barber pole or a sign or even gave my shop a name.
I didn't have to. The building was already called "the barbershop." That was its name because that had been its name for nobody knew how long. Port William had little written history. Its history was its living memory of itself, which passed over the years like a moving beam of light. It had a beginning it had forgotten, and would have an end it did not yet know.

I've read three chapters. Already I want to immerse myself in these words, literally dive in and swim. Something about Berry's cool clear dreamy prose has captured me. It floats around in the back of my head as I wander through my day. I dreamed about Port Williams last night, that I was just walking down the street going nowhere in particular.

I can't wait to read the rest.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Activity Boxes

An activity box can be a mom’s best friend. It’s time to make dinner or the kids are restless or you’ve all simply run out of things to do on a rainy day. Pull out an activity box and voila! Instant fun! Following your child’s lead while exploring the box together gives the child the opportunity to experiment and learn in a natural play-based way.
Activity boxes are deceptively simple. All you need to make one is an empty container (a shoebox will do) and a theme. You can create a box that caters to your child’s interests, or create a box that encourages exploration of new concepts. A box full of different items that are red, or items that are round, or items that are soft can be used to introduce colors, shapes, or textures to a young infant or toddler. A preschooler might enjoy an activity box with magnets and metal objects, or with magnifying glasses and shells, rocks and other interesting finds.
As you explore together, the activity box offers a natural opportunity for parents to introduce new words and to facilitate language and concept development. It’s important to allow children explore and direct activity box play, even if you’re sitting right there playing with the box too. Giving children the opportunity to engage in open-ended play with play materials that can be used in many different ways helps to develop problem-solving skills and encourages abstract thinking.

==========Sample Activity Boxes==========

Colors and Sizes Box
This box encourages sorting by color and/or size, matching items, comparisons.
A variety of green and red items of different shapes and sizes.

Things That Measure
This box encourages problem-solving and development of early math skills.
A measuring tape
A small ruler
Measuring cups and spoons
String or yarn (One fun activity with the string is cutting it into the length of your child’s hand, arm or entire body and seeing how many things are longer/shorter/the same)

Sensory Exploration
This box allows for sensory play and problem-solving skills like sorting, pouring and measuring. For this box, it’s best to have a plastic container with a tightly-fitting lid. Please be aware that some of the materials may not be suitable for very young children.
Beans, rice, cornmeal, flax, or other dry goods. (Play sand is fun too.)
Measuring cups, spoons, small bowls
Puzzle pieces, small plastic animals or cars, or other small objects to hide.

More ideas:
Quilt box: Fabric scraps in squares, with snaps for children to snap together.
Ice blocks of different shapes and sizes with objects frozen in the ice, along with bowls, spoons, washcloths.
Texture box: Fabrics and other items of different textures.
Restaurant box: Pencils, small notepads, plastic dishes, play food, aprons, paper for creating menus.
Boxes with zippers, things that screw together and apart, clocks, musical instruments, things that are blue and yellow.

The possibilities are endless. I’m going to freeze some ice for an ice box right now. I think the fine young gents will enjoy playing in the bathtub with ice.