Saturday, April 28, 2012

this is why i do what i do, part 1

i started scrapbooking shortly after diana was born.  i take breaks from it but find myself drawn back.

this is the reason why i do it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

poem in your pocket

i learned about poem in your pocket day (april 26th) last year.  i seem to remember that diana wrote an original poem, a haiku, i think, and passed copies out to people we saw that day.

thank goodness for updates from npr on facebook - i would have missed it this year, or at least be a day behind.  it happens a lot to us that instead of doing activities to build up to a particular day, like a holiday, we tend to use that day as a launch pad to explore activities.  it sure beats feeling rushed and avoids the post-holiday anticlimax feelings that can come from putting all of your hopes and dreams and energy into That One Single Day.  plus, one can take advantage of the ideas that other people come up with and immediately post on their blogs.  what, you think i come up with all this stuff on my own?

so it's almost the end of april - national poetry month - and for a moment or two i felt a pang of guilt that i haven't been spending as much time on poetry as i would have expected or hoped.  then i took stock and remembered that we incorporate poetry all throughout our year.

we have half of a bookshelf dedicated to poetry, the other half houses folktales, myths, and legends.  silverstein and prelutsky are some favorites authors of ours.  scranimals and behold the bold umbrellaphant are pretty funny.

diana's daily free writing sometimes gets on a poetry kick and she explores different elements of poetry she studied last year with another homeschooling family; rhyme, imagery, meter, metaphor and simile, among others.

just today she and i worked on reading aloud a poem for two voices named "Circles." as i was doing a google search to find the author/source of this, i came upon a page with some great ideas for incorporating math and poetry.  i definitely want to explore some of these, especially the Fibonacci poem.  we used to have pappas' book math talk - i need to do some digging to see if we still own it.

a nice little series of poetry collections includes handsprings by florian; we read autumnblings by the same author last fall and look forward to finding summersaults and winter eyes at the library when those seasons roll around again.

and i am looking forward to looking through a kick in the head by janeszko.

ok, coming back to the post title.  i found some great resources to celebrate the day, including a poem i'd like to share with you to tuck into your virtual pocket:

A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres
     to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Walt Whitman

i am happyer at home today because of those moments when all four of us are together under one roof.  we do not need to be in the same room or doing the same activity.  just the knowledge of each others' presence can be enough.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the sound of music

we have a loud household.

there are four of us, and we all like to talk and sing, sometimes at the same time, often right over each other, sometimes about the same topic, often different ones.  the volume can hit critical mass pretty quickly, and i haven't figured out how to predict when that will trigger a need for everyone to go in their separate corners and cool down or when it will lead to us collapsing in a heap, hugging and laughing with each other.

music speaks to each of us.  when steve and i were first dating, back in the stone age, singing together in the osu chorale was a fantastic experience.  i fell in love with him AND the sound of his voice.  to this day, we still enjoy singing together at home and only occasionally in front of others.  we surprised diana's piano teacher during one lesson by singing a snippet of beethoven's ode to joy - in the original german - as we had learned while performing with some chorus in our bk (before kids) past.

with both kids when they were very young, we participated in music together classes.  we loved the teachers and i adored the music.  i believe wholeheartedly that those parent-child participative experiences gave them a good foundation for musical competence in a fun, gentle, non-competitive way - and i so appreciated learning new ways of incorporating movement into our singing.  it has been years since we went to a class, but we still put on the cds at home and in the car and sing along and dance and make up new words as we go.

at chess club one day, diana and i heard a homeschooling friend playing the piano.  we were impressed and asked about his teacher, whom he and his mother highly recommended.  it worked out well because there was an open slot in the morning.  our homeschooling schedule allowed for this, so diana has been taking lessons since august.  she really, really enjoys working with her teacher, who is incredibly encouraging, supportive, and complimentary of diana's musical exploration.  i appreciate her teacher's approach, positive and upbeat manner, and her willingness to incorporate our current interests into the lessons.  i asked her just this morning about the possibility of learning songs from the sound of music, and she had just purchased a book with cd the day before - and worked with diana to learn the beginning of do-re-mi.  wow!  i love listening to diana practice at home on the keyboard (i hope someday to be able to find the funds and the space to have a piano at home) and it's a treat when she allows me to accompany her by singing while she plays.  i find myself wishing that i had studied piano for longer than a semester; diana assures me she can teach me how to play just as she has been taught.  i may yet take her up on that.

ander studied violin for a little while.  he'd been asking to play for several months; we finally decided to rent one and had him fitted for a 1/10 size (it's soooo cute) at watermelon music.  he was so pleased to have a real musical instrument - not a toy - in his very own hands.  he immediately worked at replicating what he's seen quincy on little einsteins do and enjoyed the sounds he could make.  we asked around and finally located a teacher for him.  he took lessons with over a few months, but we just recently understood that lessons are not the way to go for him right now.  he was excited to work with the teacher, who had a very calm and gentle manner and incorporated lots of fun and games that were age- and ability-appropriate for him.  but trying to practice at home quickly became a struggle, and it was taking a toll on our enjoyment of the experience.  we went into the lessons with the idea that he would be introduced to the instrument and some technique to help him make lovely sounds.  i lost sight of that goal as i daydreamed about my kids playing music together, with brother-sister duets on violin and piano, and of him playing music for diana to perform her irish dance. when i came out of my reverie and really watched and listened to ander and attended to what he wanted, i saw that we had met our original goal after all.  when i understood and accepted the difference between our individual desires, we talked about it and agreed that he was "done" with lessons.  since then, he happily opens up his case and plays what pleases him, and he enjoys it again.  as do we all.

the latest bright idea i had was to put on the subtitles for the movie (we watch just up to the intermission, as the first half has the most fun storyline and music for us, anyway) as we watch.  that, plus printing out the lyrics so we can improve our diction, has made our home performances of so long, farewell so much more satisfying.

now, to get the sheet music so steve can learn to play edelweiss on the guitar.  christopher plummer's voice is quite nice, but i prefer my husband's :)

i am happyer at home today because it is loud and filled with the sound of music.

Monday, April 23, 2012

eating books, part 1

so i asked diana the other morning how she was enjoying a new book i picked up from the library.  she said it was great, that it was a good "eating book."  when i gave here that "what?" look, she responded that it was a book that she could enjoy while having breakfast or eating a snack.  (you can rarely find her without a book while eating, unless it's at dinner or when other people are at the table or we're out somewhere.)  turns out that a good "eating book" has to be both engaging and long enough so that she doesn't finish it and need to go get another one before she's done eating.

we have lots of books in our personal library that fit the bill - lots of series, in particular - plus some that we've picked up recently.

she'd recommend the following series/authors:

harry potter series by rowling
the secret series by pseudonymous bosch
the mysterious benedict society series by stewart
percy jackson and the olympians by riordan
the gideon trilogy by buckley-archer
roald dahl
laurence yep

i am happyer to be at home today organizing my firefox bookmarks.  i love being able to do quick tidying and learning something new that makes my life more efficient so i can do other things, like practice my curses and countercurses for dueling my hufflepuff daughter on pottermore.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

this is how we "do" math

i get asked a lot whether we use a curriculum for our learning.  the answer is yes...and no.  we do invest some of our charter school funds in prepackaged kits and/or books like teaching textbooks and life of fred, but there is plenty more that we come up with on our own.

i consider steve to be a renaissance man.  he is a "man of information" to put it in jane austen's words.  one of the things he knows particularly well is the teaching of mathematics, so naturally he conducts some of the lessons with diana.  they have worked on algebra, geometry, topology, graphing, functions, probability, groups, sequences, and matrices, among other things.  no, she's not proficient in all of these topics, but she's not expected to be.  steve has this great ability as a teacher to guide a student in building a foundation of knowledge; he recognizes when she needs more of a challenge and he needs to step things up a bit or when she's struggling and needs more time or a change of topic so she can come back later.  he also understands that learning requires touching on topics multiple times and from different angles so that the connections make sense and are integrated into her thinking.  i tend to forget that sometimes.  i'm more of a linear thinker and make the assumption that because something has been taught, is has been learned and will therefore be remembered and applied appropriately and effectively from that point forward.  it sounds so silly when i actually write it down, you know, but i do lose my perspective and find myself wondering, "didn't you learn that already?  why do you need a review?"

i sometimes catastrophize that one or the other of the kids will NEVER learn a particular thing that is causing a struggle at the time.  those are not my best moments.  when i am calm, i can think of so many times when i am surprised with their facility in the use of a concept.

yesterday (or perhaps the day before, as it appears i am blogging past midnight again), diana baked a double batch of bossk brownies for the main street sidewalk sale the next day.  our recipes typically call for fractional amounts of ingredients, so this required her to double said fractions.  and she did it easily.  in her head.  without any help from me.  and converted mixed numbers to improper fractions and back again.  best of all, she felt confident about her ability!

then there was the application of geometry in determining the number of brownies that could be cut based on particular dimensions of the pan and desired brownie size.  the calculation of the number of horizontal and vertical cuts for that final count.

how about using the economic principles of supply and demand to set a price per brownie?  how much would be donated to the historic downtown woodland business association?  how offering a bulk discount would affect sales?  and making change for various change and bills?

it's ALL math.  this is how we do it.

while diana was exercising her vendor skills, ander was with steve, shopping for a great bowling set.  ander had so much fun at a bowling party recently that he's been practicing online and with a set at the toy library.  daddy indulges his boy, which i love, and the afternoon was spent setting up and knocking down the pins.  here's the fun twist - ander likes to announce how many pins he's knocked down and how many more are standing.  his favorite?  saying that there are ZERO pins standing!  i sense a bowling league in his future; that should make his granddad happy.
math, our style.  it rocks!
bossk brownies, from wookie cookies: a star wars cookbook 

  • 2/3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (we use kosher.  the bigger crystals make for a better taste)
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c. butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. white chocolate chips (we used dark because they taste really awesome that way)
Preheat oven to 350 and butter 8 in. square pan.  Stir flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together.  Mix butter and both sugars until well blended and creamy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs and vanilla extract.   On low, add flour mixture until just combined.  Stir in chips.  Pour batter into pan and smooth top.  Bake about 25 minutes.

i am happyer at home because i get to bake brownies with my daughter and bowl with my son.  and sing along with the sound of music movie soundtrack while i alternate vocal parts with the kids.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


a very dear person in my life gave us the book blueberries for sal by mccloskey some years back.  i pulled it off the shelf last week, wondering if i could entice ander and incorporate it into his repertoire.  lately we've been back on the usbornes farmyard tales routine, and though it's way fun for him, i think we could use a teensy little break from apple tree farm.

boy, was that ever successful!  i don't know what it is - the black-and-white sketches, the story line, the fact that it has mothers and offspring - i guess it doesn't really matter what it is that's appealing, as long as it is.  i wonder, though, because i assume if i can figure out the secret to what's so interesting, i can apply that principle to choosing other successful books with a greater frequency, a higher hit rate, if you will.

it MUST be read multiple times in the day.  ALWAYS by mommy.  and that pleases me.  it is our special time.  daddy is good for reading almost any book, and in fact is the preferred reader for specific books, probably because of the silly voices he uses, like in spring green.  i personally enjoy his readings of a.a. milne from now we are six and when we were very young.  but this one is mine, at least for now.

over the week, the experience has evolved.  i was able to purchase a large tub of fresh blueberries - dried ones won't do.  there is a spot in our family room that ander calls "the bushes" where we sit and read and eat blueberries from the tub.  i found containers that satisfy the need for a small tin pail and a large tin pail - lo and behold, when you drop three blueberries inside, they DO sound like kuplink! kuplank! kuplunk!

we've acted out "hustling" and "tramping" and "gasping" and talked about how little sal and little bear and little sal's mother and little bear's mother feel when they get all mixed up on blueberry hill.  he takes a "Tremendous Mouthful" (represented by one rather large berry, thank goodness) on cue and pretends to hunt around for me.

we have developed a rhythm to our reading together.  i can now sense (most of the time) when he wants to read a word or sentence or paragraph or whole page on his own and when it is my turn to read.  i am patient and wait for him to read it at his own pace, so he self-corrects when given the time and opportunity and accepts correction when offered gently.  this is truly an interactive activity.  it is not a discussion, like what diana and her friends are able to do in book club, but it is a shared experience nonetheless that meets both of our needs.  it is not to be rushed through, but savored.  it is an excellent practice in being fully present in the moment.

i am happyer at home today because i can smell the orange blossom fragrance from my neighbor's tree as i stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes.  i can share the amazement of watching the roses our neighbor cut for us bloom and fill the room with a delightful scent.  and i can eat blueberries with my little boy, snuggled up and perfectly content.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

it's all connected, anyway

i have been working on my posts at night while everyone else is asleep, but i have a lucky moment when everyone is busy doing their own thing, so i can do mine, too.

in the story of the world (sotw), we read about marco polo and his adventures.  we found a few storybooks at the library that really fit the bill for diana: marco polo by preston, marco polo by riddle and ingpen, and  # 16 of the time warp trio series by jon scieszka.  she's now working on her art project: a drawing of herself at the lavish court of kubla khan enjoying ice cream for the first time.

we've developed this theme over the "school year" when studying history to create art based on what we've learned.  we read books and do google image searches to find ideas, then use those as a springboard to design our own interpretation.  and when i say "our" i really mean "her" because she's the one who comes up with the ideas.  i suggest things sometimes, but it's really diana taking the lead to come up with how she wants to represent that aspect of history.  i find it fascinating to see what details she incorporates and how she inserts herself into the art, making herself into a kind of time traveler in distant lands.

we also read xanadu - kubla khan, a poem by samuel taylor coleridge.  we've been studying a bit about the elements of poetry in music of the hemispheres, in particular about rhyming patterns, so we went through the poem and identified the end rhymes and near end rhymes.  we laughed at our mutual misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "pants" - i'm glad she pointed it out, because i had thought it was weird but glossed over it, while she attended to that detail.  it sure did make a difference in the interpretation!

history - poetry - art - zoology (she asked about whiskers on a fox she was drawing on a tapestry in kubla khan's "small" dining hall that could only seat 6,000 people).  it's all connected.  one of the things i love about homeschooling is the flexibility to follow those connections wherever they take us.

and an update for you fans; i DID in fact complete my potion successfully.  i have not yet taken up my wand to meet my husband duel challenge.  i'm going to try to follow diana's example and get my work done before i indulge in that creative play :)

why am i happyer at home today?  our neighbor brought over these beautiful roses from her backyard.  we can enjoy their vibrant color and heady, sweet scent all day.

harry potter heaven...or is it?

so there's this website called  i think i heard about it sometime last year (or i could be completely wrong about when i first heard of it. my memory really has gone out the door since having kids.  hence one of the reasons for starting this blog.  i can download my current thoughts and know they will be here for me to refer to later, unlike those little scraps of paper or the lost emails.) and thought it sounded vaguely interesting.  i didn't really know what it was going to be.  steve saw an announcement online at the end of last week that it was available and told diana, who was itching to check it out.  sunday she was able to log in and explored it for several hours, getting up from the computer (or calling out loud to whomever was in earshot) every few minutes to make an announcement about what she'd seen or to ask a question about how something worked.  every day since then has been full of her playing on the site or talking about the site or asking questions about the site.

at first i was concerned about what i thought was becoming an obsession.  but she's been agreeable, mostly, about waiting to log in until after her lessons for the day are complete.  and we learned that only the first book is available on this beta version of the site, so we know there is a limit to how much she can do.  she's gone through the whole book already and has collected everything there is to collect, i think.  she's working on casting spells and building up a network of friends.

what i did not count on was MY obsession with this site.  yes, i have read all the books.  i have seen all but the last two movies.  but i am not really into role-playing games, and i'm certainly not one to spend time on computer games.  i do enough with research and facebook and email and now this blog adventure to keep me plenty busy without adding games into the fray.  i checked out this site at the request of my daughter so that we could enjoy this experience together and it has sucked me in.   now i find myself cheering when i find a galleon, hunkering down to cast a spell more effectively, and swearing madly because my potion isn't brewing correctly despite me being absolutely SURE that i did everything correctly, oh, except for that one part i missed...oops.  and i've committed myself to at least 45 more minutes while waiting for my cure for boils to brew.  no, i can't just walk away and go to bed - i'm trying to earn house points, for goodness sakes!

breathe deeply.

but i'm not alone, awake at 2 am, eating leftover chinese takeout.  steve is here next to me working on the laptop practicing his spells while his potion is brewing.

let me tell you, though, i'm in gryffindor and i am NOT going to let a slytherin show me up.  so there!  bring it on, mister.

i just need to get this potion done so i can get some sleep.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

book day

our day overflowed with books today.

in between working on some lessons with diana in the morning at the library, i perused the shelves to find something for each of the kids.  each time i go to the library, i wish i had brought just one more bag to take home all the selections i pull on that visit.

i always go to two places in particular at the woodland public library:  the new books shelf, because you never know what's going to show up there, and, for lack of a better word, the "featured" shelf.  the children's librarians pull books pertaining to the season or upcoming holiday or just some great theme.  it's a great place to get good ideas for something to read.

have you ever taken advantage of the services that librarians offer?  they are unsung heroes, these people.  on more than one occasion at the davis library, for example, i went to a librarian in search of something, and those women went right to work, narrowing down or expanding on my search terms, making recommendations, and coming up with great finds that i doubt i would ever have discovered myself.  that should not surprise me.  i am an educated person, but these people have higher ed degrees in information and knowledge management.  and i'm sure they want to put that education and experience to good use.  so the next time you do a search on the online card catalog and are disappointed with the results, take it to the next level and ask a librarian for help.  you'll be glad you did!

but i digress.

one of the books we selected today was kubla kahn, the emperor of everything by kathleen krull, illustrated by robert byrd.  we are currently studying the mongols during the middle ages; it was genghis khan last week and we touched on marco polo this week.  diana has been pretty clear to me that she can really get into a subject when she has access to good stories, probably what charlotte mason called living books.  books that are "textbooky" or present facts in a dry way do not capture her interest.  but give her a well-written, engaging story and she'll eagerly incorporate it into her expanding understanding of the world.  this applies to our study of history, math, science, language, art, culture and customs and many other subjects.  captivating illustrations enhance the reading experience, too, and it's almost guaranteed to be a success if it is autobiographical in nature.  i love it when diana pulls away from her reading to say, "mom, did you know...?" to engage me in what she's discovered.

today i also found the library's nook of alphabet books for ander.  he reads quite well already and is learning some phonics right now, but i wanted to indulge his fascination for the alphabet.  we have several good books in our personal library, but i found some other treasures that we shared snuggled up after a bath before bed tonight.

oh, and it was our monthly bookclub today!  this month's selection was from the mixed-up files of mrs. basil e. frankweiler by konigsburg.  jen does such an excellent job of planning these monthly book club sessions, always with good discussion questions, hands-on activities, chances for body movement to get out the wiggles, and a related theme snack.  i admire her soooo much.

some of those awesomely-illustrated, living-book-type titles we have recently enjoyed (this is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that we currently have checked out or come to my mind or made their way to our amazon wish lists):

saladin: noble prince of islam by stanley
sarah emma edmonds was a great pretender by jones
egyptian diary: the journal of nakht by platt
tales of court and castle by bodger
liberty's voice: the emma lazarus story by silverman
sholom's treasure: how sholom alcheim became a writer by silverman
queen esther saves her people by gelman

alphabet books we own or now want to:

LMNOPeas by baker
apricot abc by miles
alexander's midnight snack: a little elephant's abc by stock
now i eat my abc's by abrams
the alphabet room by pinto
annie's abc by owen
dr. seuss abc
country road abc by geisert
gone wild by mclimans
calavera abecedario: a day of the dead alphabet book by jeanette winter

nothing compares to good moments with good people and good books.  ahhhhh.

Monday, April 16, 2012

because i have to start Somewhere

this is really because of Jen, if you must know.  she inspires me.  go visit Jen's blog and you'll see why.   she invited me to a blogging class run by a fellow homeschooler.  so i went and learned some stuff, particularly about how easy it really is to set up, and now i'm actually following through.

one of our jokes at home is that "if we just got better organized, we could...[insert verb here] more/better/faster/whatever."  i'm a fan of technology.  i spend plenty of time online looking at what others do.  i'm curious, after all, and i'm a homeschooling mom, so i'm always interested in what the world holds and wondering what others are up to and how i might choose to incorporate cool ideas or fun projects into our family experience.  funny thing is, i have friends who are a lot like me and we're constantly checking in with each other about fabulous books we've found at the library or awesome websites that have just the right directions to explain how to do that complicated project we've been thinking about but didn't want to try on our own.  we form this kind of mutual admiration society where each of us wants to be homeschooled by the others and we breathlessly expound upon the new Greatest Thing Ever that we have found and simply MUST tell each other about.  these tidbits of conversation are captured on scraps of paper that may not make it out of the bottom of my purse or in emails that i never delete but don't sort, either, so i can't remember what i wanted to look for in the first place.  or, worst yet, i promise that i will send them a link or a message and then i don't.  (sorry.)  there's just so much to share and i have some ways to capture that information but it hasn't been enough.

plus, i have so many people with whom i want to share details of our lives but i feel woefully inadequate to the herculean task of keeping up with any of them, let alone all.  i do still send handwritten notes, but it's happening far less often than i like.  sure, i occasionally can get on the phone, but it's usually to schedule an appointment, rather than to have an actual conversation.  there's rarely a time when such a conversation will go uninterrupted.  and that's only when i can't get to my email because one or the other of the kids is on the computer honing math skills or improving their speed at locating all the states on a U.S. map or watching youtube videos of rocket launches or LEGO building sets or writing a story or learning about composers and on and on.

hence giving this blogging thing a try.  sure, i can only work on it late at night when the kids are asleep, but who really needs that much sleep, anyway, right?  plus i'll feel so much better when i can just say to my friends the next time we see each other, "hey, i've just been to the library and i found this awesome book about such and such.  go check my blog."  i might even sound kinda cool or hip saying it.

so grab your favorite beverage and sit and relax for a moment and see what we've been up to.  maybe i'll be lucky and i'll hear back from you :)