Saturday, March 31, 2007

Poppy Love

Meet Poppy.
She joined our family yesterday, and we are smitten.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Math boxes

Math boxes are simple: Take a shoe box or a plastic container, or even a file folder, and fill it with math stuff. They're meant to be a tool for independent exploration of math concepts that can lead back to a dialogue about math, creating child-guided learning opportunities. A math box can be a simple or as complex as you and your child wish. I found a book with some fun ideas, so I bought it and set up several math boxes one evening. My goal: To find some fun ways for kindergarten gent to fill those in-between spaces when he's finished one task but I'm still involved in a lesson with a lovely lady. If he goes to play I've often lost him entirely; if I hand him more "work" he gets bored and whiny. Premade purchased games like Rush Hour are dandy, but expensive. I was able to create several math shoeboxes or folders with materials we already had around the house: crayons, paper, ruler, pennies, dominoes.

Pictured above, from Shoe Box Math Learning Centers: What's In a Shape? (Creating closed shapes by gluing toothpicks to paper), Race to 100 (An adding game), a domino adding game, and Number Collage (creating rubbings using crayons and sandpaper numbers). You don't need a book, though. Pattern blocks with some crayons and printable pattern block grid paper is a popular shoebox on our shelf. We've also got a box with paper, pencil, ruler (for a number line), and dice for creating addition or subtraction problems. Cuisenaire rods in a tub, one-inch colored blocks and some pre-drawn patterns build (you can just draw the patterns yourself with a few colored markers), a ruler and a measuring chart (or just a ruler!), a tub of Math-U-See blocks, a balance scale with items to weigh, counting bears and little logic puzzles to match, macaroni and glue with predrawn pie templates....it just takes a little time and some imagination. Google can be a great help too, if you're stumped for ideas.

A math shoebox can be as structured or as open-ended as you wish. The idea is for the child to have a math activity box that can be explored independently, though it may take some pre-teaching or exploration together initially. Which isn't to say that it must be explored independently, as it's a lot of fun to sit down with the gents and try new things or gently guide some of the exploration. But to be a successful exploration box for our purposes the child should be able to pull the game off the shelf and explore in a way that's meaningful for him or her, which ideally leads back to a conversation or two about math concepts.

I thought the sandpaper numbers might be too simple for kindergarten gent, but it is something he could explore on his own or with his younger brothers. He occupied himself independently for a while. He was intrigued by the multiplication sign. "What's 9 x 9, Mom?" Which led to a mess of math blocks, more multiplication, and a lovely conversation about zeroes and multiplication. By the time we'd finished, the file folder was abandoned for a project involving writing 1 followed 50 zeroes then multiplying the entire thing by 9.


If you've got an extra shoebox sitting around, try some of these nifty ideas:

Math and Shapes in a Shoebox

Math Toolbox

Arithmetic Math Game

Free Printable Math Games

And for some overall math fun, check out this collection of links:
Links to math games, activity ideas, puzzles, articles, learning and teaching aids, freebies, math in daily life, "unschooling math," overcoming math anxiety, and much more...

And a lovely book for preschoolers with some activities that blend math and art:
MathArts: Exploring Math Through Art for 3 to 6 Year Olds by Mary Ann Kohl.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Not Enough Time

Ten Things....I wish, I wish, I wish the days were just a little longer

But first, a little rant. Because I know what the self-help, get-your-life-together, we've-got-all-the-answers, motivational folk say: You just have to make time.

Bleah.

I understand that in some respects it's true. We have to prioritize our time. We have to ask ourselves: Am I making the best use of my time? But no matter who we are, no matter what we do, no matter how efficient we may be, we cannot do it all. I remember how liberated I felt when I finally realized that I am never going to get it all done. Until I realized that, if I spent time in the garden I felt guilty because I wasn't playing baseball with the kids. If I played baseball with the kids, loving husband had to do the dishes by himself, if I helped loving husband with the dishes, the front yard was neglected, and the basement was still a mess, and kindergarten gent still needed someone to teach him to ride his bike and tie his shoes and I wasn't reading something that will stimulate my brain. And forget about downtime for myself...there are just a whole lot of things I should be doing instead.

Time doesn't grow on trees either. I can't just go out in the back yard and pluck an extra fifteen minutes when I think, "Gee, I really need to paint my toes." Nor can I run into the sewing room and whip out an hour or two so that I can clean the basement. It's not about making time, it's about making choices. All I can do is ask myself: Is this the best way to use my time? Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it's no, and I make a different choice, however reluctantly. And sometimes the answer is not really but I'm enjoying what I'm doing so I'll make a different choice in fifteen minutes, or when I'm finished, or tomorrow.

So take this, all of you "You've just got to make time" folks: Thbbpptt!

Whew.

Now that I've got that off my chest:
Ten Things For Which I Wish I Had More Time

1. My feet. And my hands, and my skin. I wish I had time to buff and polish and exfoliate and moisturize. My nails and my heels and such are usually in a dreadful state.

2. Spur-of-the moment outings. I love taking the kids out and about. Juggling their regular activities with lessons and dentist appointments and library trips and play time in the back yard means that spontaneity is limited. It's a conscious choice. We choose to make math and sports and library and music priorities. And the trade-off is that we lose some of our freedom to pick up and go.

3. Hiking. I love hiking. I take the kids for nature walks, but I don't mean the kind of hiking in which I'm limited to the four-year-old's pace and places where we can take the stroller. This wasn't my idea, by the way. I cheated and looked at Cristy's list. I didn't read the whole list. I was just looking because I was considering slacking off and saying "I wish I had time to write my Tuesday Ten but I don't," and I was checking to see if I was the only slacker. "Hiking" caught my eye. "Oooooh, hiking. I miss hiking. I wish I could go for a hike right now," I thought wistfully. So here it is on my list. (Any other duplications are purely coincidental. Really.)

4. Classes for me. I wish I had time to take a class for myself: yoga or quilting or drawing or belly dancing or woodworking or gardening. I know that time for this will come as my little ones get older.

5. Cleaning the basement. And the sewing room. Today instead of cleaning the sewing room, I took the boys to the garden store to buy strawberries and a birthday gift for their grandma. Then we put on raincoats and rubber boots and puddle-stomped our way around the neighborhood. Then home for warm tea (well, I use the word "tea" loosely, it's more like cream and honey with a little tea in it) and crackers. Now I'm writing in my blog. It's about making choices. The mess in the sewing room will wait, but the rain will stop and the kids will grow up. I'd rather write my list than clean the sewing room, so I'll clean when I'm done. And I know I'm making the right choices for me right now.

6. Sleep. This is where I cheat myself. At the end of a long and lovely day with the kids swirling and shouting and learning and bouncing all around me, I revel in the peace and quiet. I love the chaos and noise and activity of the day. I thrive on it. And I enjoy spending my evening sewing or reading or watching television instead of sleeping. I pay for it the next day because I'm tired. I need to make a different choice, and go to bed earlier, however reluctant I am to give up some of my quiet time.

7. Time for each child. We homeschool because we enjoy spending time with our children. They're remarkable young people. And I do make time for each child, that's a clear family priority. But sometimes I feel a little nostalgic for the kind of time I had with my lovely lady when she was little, or the time the oldest gent and I had together when his sisters were at the school down the road and it was just the two of us at home. Then I remember that sometimes I was bored stiff. I am conscious of the fact that this too is a trade-off. We love having lots of people to love. It's not as though each child is floating in an attention-vacuum if he or she does not have my full attention every waking moment. They've got one another and they get time to learn to pay attention to and entertain themselves. I truly believe that I'd be doing them a disservice were I to devote all of my time and attention to them. But some days I wish I had just a little more time to spend with each of them individually and with all of them together.

8. Absolutely nothing. One of my favorite activities as a kid was thinking. I'd sit and think. On the couch looking out at a rainy day, or laying out in the sunshine in the field, or sitting in a tree. Or get to the state where I wasn't even thinking any more. I'd just sit there and be, and the sunshine or the rain and the sounds and smells were just a part of that being. I miss that. I'm not even sure I can just sit any more. After a minute or two I start to get restless. I start thinking of all of the things I should be doing, like the laundry or cleaning the sewing room or pulling weeds. It takes time and effort to still my restlessness and just think, or just be without thinking.

9. Reading. I still read, but it's sandwiched in between the rest of life: A half an hour while a gent is at gymnastics class, fifteen minutes while I eat my lunch, twenty minutes in the evening, ten minutes before I fall asleep. I can't remember the last time I just read until my head was full of words, or when I spent an entire day curled up in the recliner or in bed with a book.

10. Time to finish this list. Is that cheating? The gents are asking me to play and I can't think of one more thing. Or rather, I can't choose between the many things swimming around my head clamoring to go on the list. So I'll just save them. I've probably got enough to make another "Things I Wish I Had Time For" list in the future.

Of course, maybe I'd have more time for these things if I wasn't wasting so much time-- ten ways I waste my time.

Cristy wishes she had more time.

Ten things for which Laura wishes she had more time.

If Dawn had more time, here's how she'd spend it.

Yay! Ilka decided to play this week. Here's how she'd spend her free time if she had any.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Magazine Review: Your Big Back Yard

Kindergarten gent got a subscription to Your Big Backyard magazine for his fourth birthday, and it's been a hit ever since. The photos are fantastic-- the April issue (pictured) has an amazing close-up of a caterpillar on the inside front cover, along with detailed pictures of robins from nest-building through leaving the nest. The gents spent a lot of time looking at the photos of the robins shoving worms into the gaping mouths of the babies, especially since we often see robins pulling worms out of the front yard while we sit at the table. We were particularly excited about this recent issue because it features two topics that have fascinated us as spring arrives: birds and gardening.

The magazine provides a nice mix of activities and information, just right for the target audience (3-6 year-olds...and their parents). There are short informative articles about different animals, a simple pencil puzzle in each issue, a pull-out poster, and fun projects. There's always a short nature-themed fiction read-aloud near the end. The gents' favorite features are the animal photographs and The Adventures of Bonnie and Chester, in which pictures replace some of the key words, allowing the kids to partcipate in reading the story aloud. I like the pictures too, and enjoy the Family Fun section, which offers fingerplays, crafts, activities and book reviews that match the theme of the magazine. Some months we may not try any activities, others we try nearly all of them. Another favorite of mine and the gents: Explore the Big Outdoors on the inside back cover. It's always got a beautiful detailed nature-notebook style drawing of a plant or animal, along with facts and a poem that would be perfect for memorization, copywork or nature journal.

I read the magazine to the gents while they ate their lunch. On the spur of the moment we decided to try the "dirt dessert." It was a great adventure. We don't normally eat pudding or chocolate cookies or gummy worms, so we went to the grocery store together to buy them. The gents smashed the cookies while I set out the supplies. Then they spooned pudding into clear plastic cups, hid their worms, then covered the whole mess with crumbled cookies. It was a gooey, sticky, crumbly delicious mess! Absolutely delightful. For additional fun we played Mama and baby robins. Don't try this if you're finicky or squeamish about sharing food...as a matter of fact, you might not even want to read about it. We're not finicky or squeamish, so I held the tip of a gummy worm in my lips and tried to drop it into their open mouths. I missed a couple times, but it was worth the giggles. Maybe we'll try making Bird Nest Salads tomorrow.

For more nature fun, check out The Big Backyard website. There are more nature and science activities, recipes, games, kid drawings and book reviews. The bird and animal coloring pages are simple accurate black line drawings. We'll be using some of the bird coloring pages for the little ones while we do our spring nature study.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A good field microscope




We've got a Brock Magiscope. We looked at rocks and leaves and goose feathers. It's small enough to fit into the backpack (if we don't have too many other items to carry) or in the stroller pocket, sturdy, easy enough that 4-year-old gent can almost use it on his own. Expensive, but worth every penny.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In Which I Make a Phone Call, Part 2

This time, as opposed to the last time I made a phone call (in this post), I actually talk to a real live person. It usually goes something like this:

"I'm going to call my dear friend."--Look up dear friend's number--Pick up the phone in the kitchen--Dial the phone, wait for dear friend to answer--Notice how messy the counter has gotten-- start to tidy--try to decide what those little tiny things are, they look like parts to something but what could it be--then...

simultaneously:
Dear friend answers her phone.
Someone starts screaming bloody murder from the other room because of a bumped head, a bumped elbow, or "He won't shaaaarre!"

"Hello, dear friend! It's me." I chirp, as I pick up the fine young gent, who's now screaming into my ear.

Dear friend says...something. "Hi, how are you?" I hope that's what she says anyway, though as often as I call, they probably say something like, "Who?"

I respond, "I'm fine, how are you?" as I frantically joggle the gent and try to shoosh him.

I think she says "I'm fine" back. I fervently hope so because I say, "Oh that's good to hear." (My apologies to my dear friends if I've ever chirped, "Wonderful!" after you told me that you hate your mother and your fish died and you got a flat tire and you're having a bad hair day.)

Gent stops crying and gets down to play because by now the extra-sensory-phone-alarm has gone off and his brothers have joined him in the kitchen to play "scream and fall down."

"I'm sorry, can you say that again?" I ask poor dear friend as I frantically make faces at the gents and shoo them out of the kitchen. What a fun game! Let's all make faces and flap our arms wildly, only they add shrieking.

"ZkgjonvklfpetuniajhfihjkfishsticksnajfhurihsSunday?"

I'm pretty sure that's not really what she said.

I send all of the boys into the office with their dad and I lock myself into the bathroom. "I am so sorry. The boys were really noisy, but now I can hear. What was that?"

Dear friend patiently repeats herself. We talk for a few minutes.

Banging on the bathroom door. "Mom? Mom, are you in there?" Lovely young lady, rather urgently.

"Excuse me please," I say to dear friend. "What do you need sweetheart?" I ask lovely young lady.

"I need to use the bathroom." (You'd think with four bathrooms in this house.....but she's scared of the upstairs bathrooms and won't use the gents' because that's the boys bathroom, Mom.)

I leave the bathroom, still chatting with dear friend. The other lovely lady walks up to me and starts talking. Dear friend is in the middle of an interesting story, so I raise my eyebrows and hold up my hand to say, just a minute. Lovely lady keeps talking. I turn away a bit. She moves in front of me, still talking. I realize that while I've been distracted by lovely lady dear friend has asked me a question. "Excuse me, please," I say to dear friend.

"Yes?" I say to lovely lady, trying not to sound impatient.

"I'm going to do my math now."

I close my eyes and count to ten. "Ok."

I start talking to dear friend. Lovely lady stands there. And stands there. "Do you need something, sweetie?"

"No."

She stands there.

"Why don't you go do your math, hon?"

"Ok."

Dear friend and I finish our chat.

After I hang up, I track down the ladies and gents and give a little mini-lecture on phone manners. Again. Please tell me that they will learn this eventually.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Day in the Life: A Friday

Notes from a Friday a couple weeks ago when I decided to keep track of what I did all day:

6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off. I groan my way out of bed and into the shower.

7:00 I wake kindergarten gent and make his breakfast while he dresses.

7:45 We walk to the neighborhood school for a PE class. The school is welcoming to homeschoolers, allowing participation in classes like PE and music, and likely field trips and assemblies if we asked. Fine young gent wanted to take a PE class, which is free and doesn't interfere with our school schedule, so twice a week I drag my rear out of bed and take him to school. I can't believe I used to get up this early every single morning. This is the same elementary school that both lovely ladies attended, so I often see their old teachers in the hallway. They always smile and ask about the girls. While fine young gent plays tag and whatnot, I volunteer my time in the school library, covering books with contact paper.

8:45 or so, depending on how dawdly the gent is on the way home. Loving husband hands me coffee as soon as I walk through the door. He's a saint. Everyone else is finishing breakfast, except for lovely lady the younger. It's a hassle getting her out of bed in the morning so I declared Friday mornings "sleep-in day" for her. I wake sleeping lovely lady, help the gents finish up their breakfast and dress them, get everyone started on their morning chores, start the laundry, and write out a checklist for the lovely ladies to work on while I'm at kindergarten gent's piano lesson. Work on memory poems with each child. Some afternoons we have a recital party with tea, cookies, and poems, but we won't have one today so it's just review.

9:45 Rush out the door to piano after firing off last-minute instructions to the dawdler of the day, whoever has decided to take on that role for this particular morning.

10-10:30 Enjoy the peace and serenity of the piano studio while the piano teacher works with my squirrely but talented young gent. Aaaaah. I could live here. No crumbs, no mess, no little voices. Wait. How many times a day could I listen to versions of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"? Never mind.

10:45 Home again. Rotate between children for lessons. Because it's Friday, we all do a nature study of backyard twigs, inspired by 70 Nature-Oriented Things to Do During the Winter. Fourteen year-old lovely lady finishes up two week-long projects, a map of Europe for geography and a writing assignment. Kindergarten gent and I do math while eleven year-old lovely lady finishes a vocabulary page, then kindergarten gent plays a math game with preschool gent while younger lovely lady and I work on reading, writing and science. Today toddler gent wants to "Dit yap," while we work, so I give him a marker and piece of paper, and he sits on my yap, I mean lap, while lovely lady and I go over her lessons.

12:30 Lunch. The kids eat while I read aloud.

1:15 History. We've been studying Elizabethan England, Shakespeare, and The Globe Theater this week. Today lovely lady, 14, creates a stage battle with her younger brother. They work on lines ("Take that!" and "Hy-aaah!" and "Aaaaiieee!") and stage sword-fighting while I finish lessons with lovely lady, 11. The two youngest gents are absorbed in a project involving pulling the pillows and blankets off their beds but they're happy and not bugging us, so I'll delightedly pick up the mess later and feel grateful for children who know how to entertain themselves.

1:45 Show time! The gents go get loving husband from the office to watch the sword fight. Lovely lady, 11, decides she wants to get in on the action, assigning herself a part as the distraught princess. I move the laundry basket so that the fake blood, really corn syrup and red food color, doesn't get on the clean and (finally) folded clothes. The younger gents get in on the action by making swords out of K'Nex and waving them wildly. Kindergarten knight spontaneously whacks distraught princess on the rear as she weeps and wails over the body of the king, causing actors and audience to dissolve in fits of laughing. It's such a success that the entire thing is replayed twice more.

2:00 Put toddler gent down for a nap, send his brothers out to play, do a Shakespeare lesson with lovely lady, 14, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then the lovely lady finishes her math so all she's got to do is read for 30 minutes. She's reading The Hobbit.

3:00 Leave for an orthodontist appointment for lovely lady, 11, then to her cast party for The Mitten. Toddler gent is awake, so I take him with us. The gents golf in the backyard while loving husband watches them through the office window.

Sometime between 5:30-6 Home. Take-out for dinner tonight because I was gone, so no time to prepare dinner. After dinner we play Legos and chase-and-tickle until time for bed. I tuck in the gents then collapse on the couch with a book. All right. That's a lie. I collapsed on the couch with the remote and watched...Masterpiece Theater. Yeah, that's it. Masterpiece Theater, not something trashy. Actually, I have no idea what I watched, but if this was 2 weeks ago then it probably was Masterpiece Theater. We have Tivo, and I've been trying to watch Dracula. It's creeping me out. I can't finish watching because loving husband won't watch it with me and I get scared watching by myself. Maybe I should just read the book.

Far too late. I drag myself to bed. Thank goodness the next day is a Saturday.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wild Days

Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals, by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe was the initial inspiration for our nature days. Wild Days centers around creating individual discovery journals, but it's really about using nature journals as a springboard for learning, and for personal discovery through nature.

"Discovery journals are enjoyable because they engage the senses and the intellect. Everyone is on equal ground when you say 'Discover something new today.' There is no competition to do better than your brother. There is only a feeling of doing the best you can for today. It is very personal. It is a great way to track your progress in writing, in sketching, and personal growth. It is a priceless record of memories that will not be lost or crowded out." (p. 18)

The book is part practical how-to, including suggestions on starting your own journals and for using discovery journals as a path to learning about art, science and mathematics, history and more; part chronicle of the author's own discovery days with her own family; and part philosophy on learning and life. It's lovely to read, with beautiful pages from the discovery journals of the author's own family, and a perfect book to inspire outings into the budding spring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Poohsticks










The Children of Green Knowe

Le berceau (The Cradle), 1872. Berthe Morisot.

Lully Lulla, Thou little tiny child
By by, Lully Lullay.
O sisters too, how we may do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we sing
By by, Lully Lullay.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

"It's the grandmother rocking the cradle," said Mrs. Oldknow, and her eyes were full of tears.

"Why are you crying, Granny? It's lovely."

"It is lovely, only it is such a long time ago. I don't know why that should be sad, but it sometimes seems so."

The singing began again.

"Granny," whispered Tolly again, with his arm through hers, "Whose cradle is it? Linnet is as big as I am."

"My darling, this voice is much older than that. I hardly know whose it is. I heard it once before at Christmas."

It was queer to hear the baby's sleepy whimper only in the next room, now, and so long ago. "Come, we'll sing it too," said Mrs. Oldknow, going to the spinet. She played, but it was Tolly who sang alone, while, four hundred years ago, a baby went to sleep.

~The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy M. Boston
(p. 153-154)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Spring

Ten Things I Love About Spring

1. Sunshine. Three weeks ago, I was wondering "Will winter ever be over?" Then we got a lovely March stretch of sunny spring weather. It's really just a teaser, a taste of weather to come. We've settled back in for another stretch of rainy chilly damp. But, oh. The brief respite from that relentless February grey is like a balm to soothe the down-in-the-dumps, dragging-through-the-day February slump.

2. The garden. Planning, preparing, and starting to plant the garden. I wish I could bottle this new-garden feeling and uncork it in September when I've got garden burn-out.

3. It's not Dad's birthday. He's given them up. But if it were his birthday, perhaps on the first day of spring, I'd tell him Happy Birthday. I might just call him and tell him anyway.

4. Playing outside. Not me. Them. My kids are wonderful people. I enjoy spending time with them. But one of the things I love about spring is that I can tell the kids "Please go outside to play." Translation: "You must go outside right now before I lose my flippin' mind with all of the boisterous boy noise that doesn't usually bother me except for right now because I've been putting up with bouncing and howling and swordfights and indoor golf and car races all winter. Love ya." They come in happy and tired.

5. The hammock. Last year's bright cozy pink hammock was destroyed by lovely lady and an exuberant neighbor girl. Over the course of the summer they flipped around and around until the strands overstretched and began to fray and break. The gents and I chose a new one, sky blue. I wasn't sure about the color until yesterday when I actually tried it out. The sky blue is a restful peaceful color, perfect for swaying gently with a good book.

No swinging allowed.

6. April showers. I greet the sunshine with joy, and I love the warm spring rains. Walking around the block for puddle-jumping in our rubber boots is way more fun than math.

7. March and April and May flowers. Everything is blooming, including our gorgeous magnolia. Swinging in the sky-blue hammock with a good book, looking up at the patches of blue sky through the pink tulip-shaped flowers....heavenly.

8. Spring Break.

9. Shorts. Capris. Flip-flops and sandals. T-shirts and tank tops. No more bulky sweaters, cumbersome boots, layers, or long pants. I can get a pedicure and show off my pretty toes.

10. Nature Hikes. We can get outside with our sketch pads and our watercolors and our bug jars. An outing in the rain is fun, especially if we're hiking by the ponds, but once the sun comes out our outings get longer and more frequent, and those wimpy people who won't hike in the rain want to come hiking with us again.

Ten things Irie loves about spring.

Cristy loves spring too.

Laura is happy that spring is here!

Dawn still has snow. But she loves spring too.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What We Need

"Fair is not getting what you want. It's getting what you need."

A lesson I repeat to my children daily.

My lovely lady with autism was diagnosed eight years ago. It seems like yesterday. It seems like forever.

I expect my inital reaction was pretty typical. I read everything I could read. I went to support groups. I designed therapy drills and exercises. I focused on treatment and preschool and supplements and therapy and what am I going to do for her. Immersing ourselves in the doing helps block out the fear and gives us some illusion of control. At least it did for me. Fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of the "what-ifs," just plain being scared for my baby girl.

We finally got to the point, though, where everything was in place. She had a great treatment program at school. We had an established play therapy program at home, with wonderful, loving tutors. I had returned to school, a Master's program in Early Intervention, special education for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

That's when I started to ponder....What does this mean for my life? Why me? Not in a whiny poor-me way; rather, "Why me" in a soul-searching, why do these things happen kind of way. God doesn't usually write us letters to explain, or send enlightenment bolting down out of the blue. Most of the time we are left to search and ponder and pray and try to find the path because finding our way is an important part of the journey.

Once in a while, though, we see a signpost. We're in the right place at the right time, and the message is clear.

I was sitting in a class. Children and Families, I think it was called. We discussed issues commonly faced by families of children with disabilities, addressed cultural issues, learned about working with different kinds of families. We had a guest speaker that day, a Native American woman talking about her tribal culture and her experiences in the last of the reservation boarding schools. (A fascinating topic on its own, though not exactly a stellar time in U.S. history. You can read more about it here or here.) During the question-and-answer session, someone asked her, "What were the views of Native Americans toward children with disabilities?" Her reply: "Some tribes believed that a child with a disability was a curse, or that the family had done wrong. But my tribe treasured children with disabilities. They believed that a family was given a child with a disability, not as a curse, but as a gift because that child had something, some quality, that the family needed."

Well.

I felt lightheaded. I almost started sobbing right there in class. I still cry when I remember.

Now I believe that the message was so overwhelming not because it was something brand new, but because she spoke what was already hidden in my heart. I needed the flash of lightning to light the signpost that was already standing on the path.

I carry my knowledge in my heart, even on the most difficult of days. This child, her presence in my life, our life together and the challenges we face, has given me gifts that cannot be measured. Compassion and patience. A challenging life that requires my active participation every single day. Appreciation of even the smallest steps. Grace. Boundless love. Knowledge that when I get to the very edge, to my limit, I can stretch just a little further. Friendships. Knowing that even when I stumble and fall-- when I yell, when I cry, when I whine-- I will eventually pick myself up and keep walking.

Faith.

It may not be what I want. Even though I wouldn't change a thing, even though I've accepted this gift wholeheartedly, I would not have freely chosen this life for myself. It is a gift chosen for me.

Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, open your heart and trust: I've been given what I need.

Earthworms

It’s springtime, the time of year when many of us start thinking about planting and tending our yards and gardens. Thoughts turn to spring flowers, green grass and garden beds. Where would our flowers and gardens be without earthworms to loosen the soil? Here’s a simple project to do with kids to help them learn what those earthworms are doing underground.

Materials:
A clean one-quart clear glass or plastic jar
2 cups of soil
1 cup humus (partially decayed leaves and roots)
Earthworms (You can dig them up or buy some from a bait shop.)
Apple peelings, pear peelings, shredded carrots or other fruit/vegetable pieces
Dark construction paper
Tape

Directions (By fine young gent and Mom):

1. I put lots of dirt and soil in the jar. On top we put worms and pear peels.
Put about two cups of soil in the jar, followed by the cup of humus. Place the worms and fruit/veggie pieces on top.

2. We put a cover on the jar. It is black.
Use the construction paper and tape to make a cover that will cover the top and sides of the jar completely. Because we didn’t cover the bottom of the jar, our cover slipped on and off easily.

3. We looked at the worms every day.
Take the cover off daily. What do you see?

I noticed lots of things. I saw a root in Maggie’s (big sister) jar. I saw lots of tunnels underground.
After a few days you’ll see tunnels in the soil. The peelings will begin to disappear. You may see some worm castings on the top of the toil.

Care & feeding of earthworms: Earthworms need to keep moist, so make sure that the soil in the jar is slightly damp. Once most of the peels are gone, you can replace them. Once you’re done with your earthworm farm you can release your worms in a garden, compost heap, or yard.

Did you know…..?
….there are approximately 50,000 earthworms per acre of soil?
….earthworms have no teeth?
…..earthworms breathe and smell through their skin?

(Earthworm farm in a jar experiment and facts courtesy of Biology for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work by Janice VanCleave.)

Books about earthworms:

Worms (Creepy Crawlers) by Lynn Stone




Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer





Squirmy Wormy Composters by Bobbie Kalman





For earthworm fun online:

The Adventures of Herman the Worm (an internet site with lots of interesting information about worms): http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/worms/index.html

An online earthworm coloring book (in pdf format):
www.sfa-cm.org/ColoringBook.pdf

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cupcakes

The gents and their lovely young sister surprised lovely birthday lady with birthday cupcakes and handmade cards.

Sometimes the simplest gifts are the sweetest.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Girls Night Out

First Stop: Build-a-Bear

Apparently, fourteen isn't too old for a Build-a-Bear. Heck, I'll admit my silly little secret...I'm kind of hoping I can go on my next birthday. So off we went to the mall, lovely ladies and I, for a girls night out. Lovely lady chose a dog to stuff and dress, with a bandanna, sunglasses, and purple wings to match. She named him Mystic. We were in and out quickly because she had a pretty good idea what she wanted.

Lovely younger lady had $100 saved, birthday and Christmas money from her dad and uncle, plus some allowance. She was going to buy one outfit for the poodle she'd gotten for Christmas. She ended up with three outfits. I'm surprised I didn't bite my tongue right off trying not to blurt out....

"Are you sure you need more clothes for a doll?"

"Wouldn't you rather save your money for something more worthwhile?"

"Why don't you....."

Deep breath....deep breath.

Repeat to myself "It's her money. It's her money. She saved it. It's her money, so shut up."

Yeah. No control issues here.

Second Stop: Limited Too

Oh boy. My fashion-crazy girl has had her heart set on a dress from Limited Too since her birthday when I wouldn't let her buy a dress with her birthday gift certificate. Yeah, I know, it's her money. But I'm not about to let my eleven year-old dress like a...well, you know. I'm not ultra-conservative either, but I really don't think little girls need to dress like they're twenty-five. Twenty-five-year-old...well, you know.

She tried on eight dresses.

The yellow dress-- Me: Yes. Her: No.
The black dress-- Her: Ooooooooooooo!!! Me: Not in a million years not even when you're twenty-five. ("Ah! Not even when I'm twenty-five?" she just blurted out, reading over my shoulder.)
The pink dress-- Me: Adorable. Her: Blah. Me: Darn.
The other pink dress-- Her: I love it. Me: I love it too. Both of us, looking at the price tag: Eeek! Maybe not.
The brown dress-- Her: I love it! Me: Weellllllll. Ok. Maybe we should try a different size. Hmmm. Stretch out your arms. Oh. Um, no. Nope. I can see all the way down the front.
The other brown dress-- Both of us: Eh.
The brown-and-white dress-- Both of us: Cute. Very cute.
The white dress--Both of us: Love it.

The whole thing, negotiations over what fits and what's cute and such, took 45 minutes. Gah! She finally settled on the white dress. Keep in mind, now, as we head to the cash register, she has talked of buying a dress from Limited Too since July. July. I've had to hear "dress from Limited Too" for (counting on fingers) nine months, give or take a bit. Also keep in mind that we just spent 45 minutes finding the right dress.

We head to the register. She spots an iDog on the way. Doesn't have enough money left for the iDog and the dress. "Never mind, Mom. I'd rather get the iDog instead. I can just wear one of the dresses I already have."

Biting tongue. Biting tongue. Will...not...mention...money....spent...on...doll...clothes.
Will...not....mention...I...already...suggested...her...other... dresses...are...fine.
Will....not....mention....that...we....just...spent...45...minutes...

Biting. My. Tongue.

Fourteen-year-old lovely lady has quietly occupied herself this whole time with her new pet. Mystic is adorable in his wings. Somehow a husky with purple wings and sunglasses works. Instead of looking weird he looks cool and kind of mystical.

Third Stop: Borders

Now this is my kind of girls night out. Cookies and coffee, or hot chocolate, all around. Browsing for books. Music, a young woman singing about appreciating what we've got and feeling lucky to be where we are in our lives. Both girls had gift certificates to spend. Lovely birthday lady bought a book on Siberian huskies. Lovely younger sister bought an American Girl book. I bought a book I've had my eye on for a while, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick) and the book about seeds I mentioned in my last garden post, How a Seed Grows (Helen Jordan and Loretta Krupinski). It was a quiet relaxing end to our evening.

Until we got in the car and lovely lady the younger took off her rubber boots. The polka-dot rubber boots she's been wearing all winter. Without socks.

Whew!

"My feet stink," she said. "I can smell them clear up to my nose."

"I can smell them clear up here," her sister said.

"Put your boots back on," I gasped.

Thank goodness the ride home was short because we had to roll down the windows.

Today We Lunch In The Tub: What We're Reading

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub is a treasure. Written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood, King Bidgood is a charming story and great fun to read aloud.

"Help, help!" cried the page when the sun came up. "King Bidgood's in the bathtub, and he won't get out! Who knows what to do? Oh, who knows what to do?" The members of the court try all kinds of ideas to entice the king out of the tub, but he simply won't get out until the page himself comes up with a common sense solution to the dilemma. The illustrations are charming and detailed, fun to look at over and over, and the story has a wonderful rhythm.

The fine young gents favorite part: "Come in!" cried the King, with a yum, yum, yum. "Today we lunch in the tub!" The idea of lunch in the bathtub is hysterically funny.

Speaking of lunch in the tub, It's Okay to be Different, written and brightly illustrated by Todd Parr, is another favorite with the younger set. Each page begins with "It's okay to..." and lists a new way that it's ok to be different. "It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub" gets giggles from the gents. "Noooooo...." they say. "You can't eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub!!!"


Other stories we read for lunch in the bathtub storytime: The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee (a favorite from the very first What We're Reading post), Pumpkins by Mary Lyn Ray, The Pokey Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey (one of my favorites!). I was so inspired by The Pokey Little Puppy that I made rice pudding for dessert that evening.



Lovely young lady, 11, is reading a biography of Helen Keller for school reading. She says it's "okay." I did notice that she's actually spending most of her reading time reading instead of looking around the room, fiddling with her earrings, making faces at her brothers or staring out the window. Progress! She's been interested in Helen Keller since her fourth grade teacher did a Helen Keller study. Lovely lady still likes to pretend that she's signing into my hand. The Childhood of Famous Americans series seems to be well-written, engaging and informative.

In her free time she's reading The Limited Too catalog. *sigh*


Her lovely sister just finished reading The Hobbit (Tolkien). I read it to her three years ago, but decided that it was time for her to read it herself. She wrote a glowing review in her reading journal. I'd quote from her review, but she's writing in the journal right now. She's moved on to a new book, Bloom: A Girl's Guide to Growing Up. Written from a Christian perspective, Bloom addresses issues ranging from fashion to sex and dating to money. I originally ordered it for lovely younger lady, but felt that many of the themes were too mature for her. Lovely lady, 14 yesterday, is more mature and handles discussions about growing up with grace. Not only that, but she'll probably be returning to public school in the fall, and we both want to make sure that the door stays open and that we continue to create opportunities to discuss things like boys and values and God. She's been writing an entry in her journal after each section of the book, and recently wrote that she finds approaching the issues raised from a Christian perspective to be refreshing and challenging in a good way.

I'm making my way through Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Perfume is the story of young Grenouille, born into the stench of a Paris fishmarket, with a highly developed sense of smell, and his single-minded quest for the perfect scent. I find myself alternately fascinated by the character Suskind has created, repelled but not quite repelled enough to stop reading, and bored. I'm having a hard time believing wholly in the main character and his story. I'll keep on reading, though, because I'm intrigued enough to want to find out how his story plays out.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser. My mother-in-law had this biography out on her coffee table. I picked it up, and she sent it home with me. Marie Antoinette is both far more interesting than I'd imagined, and far less complex. I've learned that it is highly unlikely that she actually said, "Let them eat cake," that she was a devoted mother, a gracious hostess, and at best an ineffectual politician who became the scapegoat for France's financial and political pains. The account of her early marriage to Louis XVI is almost painful to read, as I Fraser paints a vivid picture of Antoinette as a young girl married to a stranger and torn between her allegiance to her strong-willed manipulative mother's political ambitions and her completely disinterested and not very attractive husband. I do find at times, as with most biographies I read, that the author's ideas about Marie Antoinette lead her to speculate perhaps a bit farther than is supported by the evidence, at least the evidence presented in the text, but overall this biography has been a pleasure to read.



We're nearing the end of The Children of Green Knowe (Lucy M. Boston). I'm going to miss reading this one when I finish. (More posts about this book here, here, and here.)

"Can we give them a present?" said Tolly.

"What would you suggest?"

The first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, A partridge in a pear tree.

Tolly was thinking aloud.

"I think that would be perfect, but a little difficult. Not absolutely impossible. It would be difficult to get a live partridge and harder to make it stay in the tree. It ought really to be a tame one."

"It could be in a cage, and we could tame it afterwards."

"I'm sure they never had a partridge. Linnet would love it, with all its brood running after it like tortoise-shell thimbles with legs. Let's try, Tolly. It's a perfect idea. We'll advertise: 'Wanted, live hen partridge, preferably tame.' And I'll write to a gamekeeper I know in Scotland. Bring me my writing paper, I'll do it at once."

Tolly and she enjoyed themselves writing what seemed ridiculous letters. They also chose out of a catalogue a pear tree described as havving 'juicy melting flesh, delicious flavor.'

(p.131-132)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy Birthday!


Happy Birthday to my lovely lady. You came into my life when you were four, and I was charmed by you. It's been a joy and an honor to be a part of your life. I love you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Ten before 10

Ten things to do with my gents before they're ten

1. Read to them. The lovely ladies enjoy a good read-aloud, but it's not quite the same now that they're older. I love snuggling on the couch with the kids and a book, and listening to my mom read is one of my favorite childhood memories. Watching my kids fall in love with the books I loved...priceless.

2. Teach them good habits. Manners, picking up after themselves, self-respect, care for others. It's just the way we do things. I can't imagine having to learn those things after a decade of being allowed to be self-indulgent.

3. Listen.

4. Teach them to respect me. You know, before they're bigger than I am.

5. Play together.

6. Let them see me reading and learning. Modeling good habits is as important as teaching them.

7. Teach them to....
What do we love? Golf. Hiking. Reading. The garden. Music. It may be that ultimately they don't pursue our interests, but if they do we've got a shared passion that will give us common ground as adults.

8. Explore their interests. Find out what they love. Encourage them. Get involved. Who knows, maybe we'll find something new to enjoy together.

9. Go on vacation. I want to take them somewhere fabulous. I don't know where, but somewhere that they'll say to each other later "Remember when?"

10. Love them. I know, that goes without saying. But it's the best way to make all the other stuff on your own "Ten before 10" list happen.

Ten Things Laura would like to do before Kaylee turns 10.
Dawn actually does fun stuff with her kids, like fishing and camping. She's trying to make the rest of us look bad, sheesh. Read her list here.
Cristy feels like a zombie.
Irie didn't play this week, but you can read all about knitting and look at her lovely pictures.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Garden Day

We woke this morning to drizzle. Rats.

By the time we'd finished breakfast, the day was gray, but the drizzle was over so out we went. This is one of my favorite times of year, and gardening provides so many learning opportunities that I don't feel the least bit bothered when we abandon the books to weed and dig.

I did most of the weeding. The gents were busy creating a river with the hose. Right now they're working on getting the river to curve and creating banks that prevent it from turning into a lake before it gets to the designated lake area. Hands-on engineering at its finest, with no helpful advice from Mom.

Eventually they abandoned the river to help me dig. I just turned the soil in the boxes, trying to get the last of the stubborn roots and loosen things up a little. I love digging with my guys. They're delighted by everything they find: peach pits, crawly things, roly-polies (or pill bugs or potato bugs), roots, spiders, worms. They adopted a few worm pets and named them. Wiggly was one of the worms, a big fat one.

We let the chickens out of the side yard. The garden isn't fenced, so once we get things planted they won't be able to roam the yard for a while. The chickens decided that hanging around digging humans is a great way to get an easy lunch. The gents experimented to find out just what the chickens will and won't eat. Weeds, no. Rocks, no. Grass that's been tossed at them by grubby children, no. Worms, yes. They will eat the fat squashy caterpillars that I dug out of the garden boxes. Like chicken candy. Ew. I still haven't been able to identify the caterpillars because the caterpillar identification sites I visited assumed that I could actually see how many segments the caterpillars had. Too bad we fed them all to the chickens. I figure whatever they are, they probably aren't good for the garden. I believe I mentioned that the chickens will also eat worms. I fed the chickens the worms I found floating in the gent's lake. Oops. Apparently Wiggly and friends were going for a swim in the lake for fun.



So we started a worm hunt. The gents have quite a worm collection by now. Tomorrow we'll make worm farms.






The littlest guy was just happy that his brothers had abandoned the hose, leaving him free to water everything in sight, including himself. Look at that little face. Darn, he's cute.



Tomorrow we're heading to the garden store to choose our seeds, and to the library. Here are a few of the books we'll be checking out:

How a Seed Grows (Let's Read and Find Out Science), Helen J. Jordan, Ill. by Loretta Krupinski. I haven't read this one before, but it looks lovely.




Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, Sharon Lovejoy. My friend Dawn recommended this book. I can't wait to read it. This looks like a book we'll eventually own.







From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons. We've checked this out from the library twice already. Like all Gail Gibbons books, the illustrations are fantastic, simple but accurate. The gents really liked this one, choosing it for bedtime reading several times.


Growing Vegetable Soup, Lois Ehlert. We're Lois Ehlert fans. This is one of our many Ehlert favorites, a story about growing a vegetable garden with the ingredients for vegetable soup. Just lovely.

To-Do List

Mom made this for me after reading my phone call post. Notice the "Call Mom!" note.

Make your own here: http://www.blyberg.net/card-generator/