Thursday, May 24, 2012

a pox in my house

so, if you've been paying attention, you'll know that diana has acquired chicken pox, much to our surprise and amazement.

it's a mild case, thankfully, but she's still under quarantine so that she does not spread it to others.  we've been doing more stuff around the house together as a result.

gardening, for example.  in our new home, we have a raised bed full of soil that needed to be watered and worked.  we got out there with our tools and put our collective muscle into it.  our work time ended with a romp through the sprinkler.  i didn't mean to get so wet, i was just trying to adjust the hose.  diana had the right idea and put on appropriate gear to enjoy the little shower on a warm day.

back to the pox, though.  ander has always liked looking at spots of all kinds, particularly moles and bug bites.  he was pretty excited about his sister's condition and wanted "polka dots" of his very own.  it's amazing what one can do with a purple sharpie marker.

i've been having a doozy of a time trying to count diana's pox, which we are recording for, well, because we like collecting and recording data.  we're a bunch of scientists here, after all. i've tried multiple strategies.  what i would really like to do is lay out a grid on her torso (that's where most of the pox are; she's only got a few on her limbs) so i can focus and count only one area at a time.  plus we could do some really interesting data analyses (did i mention at least two of us are statisticians, too?) but that's a bit too much to ask for, so we'll just have to be content with some measurement error.  sigh.

besides getting plenty of rest, liberal application of calamine, and soaking in oatmeal baths whilst re-reading harry potter books for the umpteenth time, she's done some internet research regarding the varicella virus.  diana seems dissatisfied with the relative lack of information regarding what to do when you have the chicken pox.  she's found a lot about what it is and how to prevent it, but she wants to know, what's a girl to do if she's already had her vaccines and she gets some wild strain anyway?

and this has led to some other interesting questions, like, can our pet rabbit catch chicken pox?  and, if so, does that make it rabbit pox?

diana is also in a bit of a quandary.  she is really pleased that she is not suffering very much.  i think i've scared her with my sad stories of how i had like a zillion pox and they were so itchy and i still have a crater in my eyebrow from scratching open a blister and i missed my last week of school in fifth grade and how i had to watch my class' field day from behind the fence around the schoolyard and yadda, yadda, yadda.  anyway, she laments that she will recover so quickly that there won't be sufficient time to receive replies in the mail from the friends to whom she sent letters telling them about how she has chicken pox and can't play until she's no longer contagious (at least that's what i think she wrote, as i only saw that she was using her personal stationery and did not see the actual words.  i'm just so glad that she still practices the art of handwritten correspondence.  and uses punctuation and capitalization and correct grammar properly and more often than i do in my blog.)

it's good that we still have the ottomans to read about next in history.  after that is the black death, and i want to make sure she's fully recovered from her little illness before getting into the nitty-gritty of the plague.

i'm happyer at home today because this time around, the pox ain't so bad.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

chiggen box

hi! i am diana, and i am guest blogging for mom. i am here to talk about my pox.
it all started when i was playing dress-up (we have quite a few costumes) with my friend juliet. she lives upstairs. so, when i was changing, she pointed out quite a few spots resembling mosquito bites. except there were a ton of them, and they were only on my chest.
a while later, a friend offered to see what they were. she said it was chickenpox.
so we went to the doctor, she said chickenpox too.
we count the spots in the morning and at night.

here is a list of the pox numbers.
friday, pm      24
saturday, pm  50
sunday, am    61
sunday, pm    71
monday, pm  86
today, am      75

my pox, at least, is a mild case, since i have already gotten 2 vaccines.

i must tell chiggen box's tale. so there's this company called giantmicrobes. the first microbe i bought was chickenpox.
my brother ander was really little, and he couldn't pronounce the name right. so he called it chiggen box. now my microbe is named chiggen box.
goodbye for now, from me and my pox!

the forbidden city

we've recently explored a bit of the ming dynasty and the forbidden city in china.

we jumpstart our history lessons using the story of the world by susan wise bauer and then explore further on our own.  she created some art; i suggested she design her own forbidden city.  i appreciated the thought she put into the design, incorporating beauty and practicality, and the ingenious names she came up with for the different spaces made me laugh.

her favorite books from among those i selected at the library:

you wouldn't want to be in the forbidden city! a sheltered life you'd rather avoid by jacqueline morley (there is a whole series of these books)

elephants and golden thrones: inside china's forbidden city by trish marx

i know things stick in her head when she incorporates elements of culture and customs in her play.  sometimes she'll tell me about an activity and i get the sense that i've seen or heard something like it before.  when i ask her where she came up with the idea, she smiles and says, "you know!" and i am left marveling again about how intricate and complex our understanding of the world really is.

i am happyer at home today because of all the things i learn about just by being in close proximity to curious people.

Friday, May 18, 2012

back home where he belongs

steve is back home, safe and sound.  our family is together again, thankful for each other.

no, he was not already in afghanistan, and he is not going to go.

yes, it might be possible to get whiplash from reading about our wild and crazy ride.  imagine how it is for us!

the long and the short of it: i did not want the stress of having him in a war zone.  period.  i thought i could be reasonably well assured that he would be safe and secure behind armed guards in an undisclosed location.  i was also heavily seduced by the idea that we could gain some financial security over the next year, given the hazard pay he was offered.

the little time steve had here at home between receiving the offer and leaving for training was a whirlwind of trying to get some of our household items moved to the new place, get paperwork signed to close on the sale of our home, and spending every possible moment together as a couple or as a family.  when he left, it was first to visit his folks in maryland, then orientation at his new company outside DC, then off to camp atterbury for the army program preparing civilians for working with the military.  he was still in the united states, not yet having left for the other side of the world, when we came to the ultimate conclusion that this was going to work for our family.

from the first night he left, my sleep was disrupted by disturbing, anxiety-filled dreams.  and he hadn't even left the country yet.  we could still talk to him every day; in a way it was like he was gone for a few days at a conference.  daytimes were fine: the kids and i started working on our new routines in our new home; i kept up activities with friends and talked to family on the phone.  It was in the dark, the dead of night, when the fears became unmanageable.

six months of him being gone before earning leave to visit home seemed doable when it was just a concept.  but it wasn't the separation that was the scariest: it was the idea of scanning news updates for activity in afghanistan, of jumping every time the phone rang, of wondering if i would get a message that something had unexpectedly, unpredictably, unthinkably happened that would put our family into chaos.

was i catastrophizing?  maybe.  but i don't think it's unreasonable to have concerns about my husband entering a war-torn country.  sure, military families have to handle it; we were told to treat this like a military deployment, but i don't know how they cope.  i was a navy wife once, but i am not a military mom, and our young children need their daddy more than this job would allow.  no amount of hazard pay is worth the toll i think it would eventually have on all of us.

so he has come home to us.  i am so thankful for and proud of steve, my partner, who was willing to serve but who also considers and works towards fulfilling the needs of his whole family.  he is willing to change course if necessary, and so he has.  we need him to be in a safer place, and he will be by not going to afghanistan.

what does this mean now?  well, it's back to the stress and uncertainty of unemployment in this horrible job market.  that’s difficult enough as it is, but it’s something we can shoulder together.  and i can sleep better.

i am particularly grateful to the family and friends who have expressed their support for us as we embarked upon this endeavor.  your words, your hugs, your offers of help, and your confidence in our ability to navigate this situation have meant a great deal to both of us, especially to me.  we would not have been able to even consider such an undertaking had it not been for your unswerving and dedicated presence in our lives.  we appreciate your continued support as we determine what happens next for us.

ok, you can breathe that sigh of relief now.

i am happyer at home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

more poetry

i mentioned some of the poetry books we like in a prior post; here are more to add to the list:

earth verses and water rhymes by j. patrick lewis (i just looked him up and am fascinated by this prolific body of work - i need to get back to the library to get more!)

pieces: a year in poems and quilts by anna grossnickle hines  (read her story at the link - wow, what an undertaking! plus she has more books like this!)

hailstones and halibut bones: adventures in color by mary o'neill, illustrated by leonard weisgard (this is one from waaaaaay back - a gift to steve and his sister from their grandparents in 1975.  there's been a newer version with a different illustrator, but i haven't read that one)

a few that have stuck in our minds from times past, especially in relation to topics we are studying, or ones we have learned about from others:

voices of ancient egypt by kay winters

good masters!  sweet ladies!  voices from a medieval village by laura amy schlitz

dark emperor and other poems of the night by joyce sidman

red sings from treetops: a year in colors by joyce sidman

one of the curricula we use for language arts is michael clay thompson's, available at royal fireworks press.  level 1 vocabulary building language has some very fun poems written by the author to illustrate the use of some latin word stems.  we are also making our way (slowly) through the same author's music of the hemispheres.

i am happyer at home today because i can read and listen to and appreciate poetry in a way i never did growing up.  experiencing it with my children brings a whole new, fresh perspective.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

week one - done

steve departed one week ago.

the kids and i are doing ok, actually.  i just wanted to get that out first so you didn't worry.

for my readers who do not know, we've had some big changes around here.  please allow me to explain, based on words i sent to our extended family and close friends:

For most of his life, Steve wanted and worked towards achieving a goal of becoming a professor at an institution of higher learning.  He did accomplish that goal, but after working at the university for about two years, he came to the tough realization that it was not what he thought it would be.  The career and life of an academic wasn't really working for us as a family.  So he started looking around and investigating other options.  He immediately impressed several people in the field of (big) data analysis in Silicon Valley, and he was being wooed by a company in the nation's capitol who'd had an eye on him since before his Ph.D. graduation.

Big decisions for us - where to go?  Well, it all came crashing down startlingly and unexpectedly.  After having already informed his current employer of his impending departure (in sufficient time to allow his students to select options other than his classes), when it came time to begin his full time work at the company he accepted an offer with (and for whom he was already doing some part-time work), there was a shakeup at the company.  The gentleman who had hired Steve, a man who impressed Steve as a mentor and awesome boss, abruptly left, as did his own supervisor.  The new person in charge told Steve that the team was now overstaffed and they would not honor their deal with him.  Devastating as this was, at least we still had the D.C. option.  Except the next day, that company had to reluctantly tell us that although the contract was in place, the funds had not yet been released by Congress, so they could not, in good conscience, bring Steve out because they could not pay him.

Wow.  So we went from having two very solid options to nothing really, really fast.  The house was already on the market, we knew we would be going, but where?  Fortunately, Steve has an impressive array of skills and experience and enthusiastic advocates, plus he does really well in interviews.  Unfortunately, we were reliving some of the nightmare that I went through in the time Before Children after having been laid off from my consulting firm along with the majority of my colleagues.  I was highly qualified, but there was always just one other person who had a little more experience, or had worked in the field already for some time.  He hit up against a similarly frustrating wall multiple times.

Until this job appears.  It needs a social scientist with an advanced degree and experience with statistical analysis, among other things.  But it is overseas.  In Afghanistan.

Take a deep breath here.  Yes, it has taken us some time to process this; we're still trying to get a handle on it.  We understand if this takes you by surprise, too.

Steve's new title is Social Scientist, working for a military contractor.  His work involves testing the effectiveness of coalition efforts while in a secure location in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.  I am assured to my satisfaction that he will be safe and comfortable; we've even started referring to his new residence as "The Resort."

Why not do this?  We asked ourselves this multiple times.  Certainly this was not what we originally had in mind, but we have come to see it as a really exciting opportunity.  Steve will get to do some interesting work, draw on a lot of his skills and background, and go someplace new and unexpected.  The kids and I are moving from the responsibility of maintaining a whole house by ourselves to appreciating having someone else manage water heater issues.  We secured the spacious bottom floor of a two-story house within walking distance of our public library, the Woodland Toy Library, swim school, and all the places we like to visit on Main Street, like Sweet Potato Pie and Fat Cat Cafe.  It's in the beautiful historical district of Woodland, where sweet-smelling rose bushes adorn the fences around lovely Victorian homes.  We have lots of support within our community and from homeschooling friends, for whom we are grateful.

So this is our new adventure.  We have frequent contact with each other; it's so much easier with Skype and email than it was back when Steve was deployed in the Navy and months might pass before I could have contact with him.  We plan to use Steve's location as a springboard for our homeschool study of Afghan history, geography, culture, food, clothing, customs, climate - whatever we can discover.  Yes, we miss each other very much, but we are so grateful for and proud of our strong marriage and family.  We can withstand this geographical separation and come out the other side having grown from the experience.

so it's been pretty interesting around here, to say the least.  sure it has it's tough moments, but i don't want to dwell on those, simply recognize them for what they are and then let them pass; better moments are always on the horizon.  instead of tightening my control of our schedule, i have been more flexible and accommodating in finding a new routine, and the kids have responded to that marvelously.  time passed quite pleasantly at the park with friends yesterday afternoon and the kids read with each other at bedtime - all on their own - and i could see that for Right Now, life is good.

today i am happyer at home because home really is where we make it, and i can make it anywhere.  we miss you, daddy, and we know you miss us.  we're in this together.  we love you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

whole earth festival

saturday we spent the day at the whole earth festival (wef) in davis.

diana and a fellow dance student performed with irish dance group siamsa le cheile in the morning.  she's been studying irish dance with various members of this group for almost two years, and this was her second time performing at the wef.  she's really evolved in her attitude towards performing her craft - it used to be that she was reluctant to dance in front of anyone except for her immediate family.  even after nearly a year, she had to be persuaded to perform for a small group of dancers' family and friends for a st. patrick's day recital of sorts.  now in her second year, she is enthusiastic about performing but feels ok about it only when she is up on stage - the anticipation in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to a performance is full of nervous and excited energy.  i could tell she was having fun from watching the genuine, brilliant smile on her face the whole time she was dancing.

the wef as an event has a great vibe.  lively music, entertaining dancing, fantastically delicious and decently healthy food (black bean chili with greek yogurt, cheese, and chives over brown rice, garlic fries, frozen watermelon and limeade slushies), and friendly vendors.  i indulged the kids with a pair of dancing wings and they've loved incorporating them into their play.

though we've enjoyed the labyrinth in years past, we didn't even look for it this year, preferring to stay in the kids' space instead,  there was plenty of room for climbing and artistic expression.

as i had explained to ander that morning, "a festival has games, food, music, and dancing."  i had forgotten to mention the friends and other people in our community we would see and with whom we could share our time.  our experience surpassed our expectations.  what a wonderful way to spend mother's day weekend.

i am happyer at home today because of this magical time and place to explore our creative imaginations in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

leggo my LEGO

move over, DUPLO.  we have become a fully-integrated LEGO family.

steve and i each grew up with legos.  he kept a lot of his.  i retained mostly my memories of playing with my brother's space sets.  oh, and the awesome TECHNIC shock cycle (8838) i used in my master's thesis research (yeah, i was the grad student who didn't have any trouble finding research participants, once they knew they'd be playing with legos for class credit).

anyway, a couple of years ago we gave diana several sets from the harry potter line, marvelous, unopened hand-me-downs from her generous aunt and uncle and cousins.  she acquired more sets for her birthday last year, and she saved up her allowance and gift money and purchased a hogwarts castle set all on her own.  she disappeared all weekend and then emerged from her room, flushed and enthusiastic to share all the details she had discovered while building it.

as things do, the craze about the harry potter line diminished after a while, but the love of all things lego re-emerged during a lego engineering class diana took earlier this year.  twelve weeks long, each week with a different engineering project, most with moving parts, some even powered with motors.  diana was inspired and motivated by this class.  she didn't understand why there weren't more girls in the class; just she and a friend were the only two amongst the boys.  she was undaunted by the tasks and set out to complete them with her own personal twist.  i was particularly  pleased for her on one occasion when the most of the other students told her that her design would not work.  even her teacher was doubtful and suggested some modifications.  boosted by her girl friend's confidence in her, diana implemented her design and it worked!  she told me after the class that she believed in her design and wanted to test it out on her own, rather than giving up because of the doubts of others.  more than just an engineering lesson was learned that day, and i hope it will stick with her for a long time.

ander has been playing with the duplos for the most part but i think he's felt limited in using them.  he can pretty much make rockets, like a simple version of the saturn v or delta iv, but he often comes to us, steve mostly, to ask for help in building water towers, crawler transporters, and the waterford crystal ball that drops in times square on new year's eve.  (steve and i joked that he would next ask for a model of the international space station.  and why not?  steve's always been so creative and accommodating when ander has asked for things to be made of play-doh, so this is another extension of that, right?!?)  we got him started on some of the little CREATOR sets, a ladder fire truck and some construction vehicles.  with a healthy dose of guidance, he can follow some of the diagrams and gets really, really, really excited about what he can make together with daddy.

the whole family worked on the apple tree house last week in celebration of finding a new home.

for steve's last day home before departing for his new job, we had a an extra-special surprise for the kids - a trip to the lego store to choose whatever set they wanted.  it was an indulgence that made us all happy.

we knew just what ander would like - the CITY space centre.  he's been watching a particular video on you tube about this set, and now he can act it out himself with his very own rocket.  it's awesome.  especially when both kids are absent-mindedly humming the background music while they build.

diana took a while longer to decide.  there are so many themes in legos these days, but they are not what appeals most to us.  diana felt like she had enough harry potter legos, including the game, and she didn't see other things that she wanted.  (i was hoping for individual pieces or supplementary sets to continue what she learned in the engineering class - motors, leads, treads - that we could add to what we already own, but those were not available at the store.)  she selected a KINGDOMS kit - the joust set - partly because we are studying medieval history and partly because the minifigs and detail pieces are so very cool.  i was glad she picked this one - i've always loved the castle sets, though i don't remember if i had any growing up.

it didn't take her long to finish, though it has about 1500 pieces.

now ander talks about his space legos in his sleep, wakes up and eagerly jumps out of bed to play with them, and wants to show them and talk about them to everyone he comes across.  "my daddy and i built them!" he proudly announces, naming each component to the set.

i think we're gonna need a bigger table.

i'm happyer at home today because of all the legos we build here at home, individually and as a family.  it's truly something we can all share.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

science fair

yes, homeschoolers DO have the chance to participate in science fairs.  diana participated in her second one today.

what i particularly love about the science fairs that a local homeschooling mom organizes is that it's not a competition for "best project."  it's simply a chance for kids to share with others what they are particularly interested in.  each student approaches it in a different way, and the variety of topics was quite intriguing.

there were descriptive science projects: frogs, horses, hummingbirds, volcanoes.  there were explorations of scientific principles: making an electromagnet, building a potato battery, investigating evaporation, comparing weights of paper on flight patterns of paper airplanes, growing crystals under a variety of conditions. 

there were ooh and aah moments, too.  one student demonstrated how a handkerchief soaked in a solution of rubbing alcohol and water could be set on fire and not burn (a version of this at steve spangler science looks cool).  another student created all sorts of eye-catching reactions inside plastic bottles and wowed everyone with a blue exothermic foam.

one of my favorites was an investigation of how roman roads were built to last so long.  using different building materials such as large rocks, sand, lime, and pavers, the student tried out multiple combinations of ordering these materials on top of each other to see what would provide the most stable surface for driving chariots over.  what was particularly ingenious is that this could be done on a small scale - using different kinds of CHOCOLATE!  yup - bars, chunks, frosting, and the like.  how incredible clever and quite effective at demonstrating the principles of road engineering.

kids, if they so desired, had the opportunity to present their project to an attentive and appreciative audience.  there was a range of ages, from 5 to 15, and i saw a lot of genuine interest from the students and their families as they looked at the displays and asked questions.  it was clear that some of these kids really got into what they were doing and were happy to talk about their project.

this was a real opportunity for students to share their excitement and depth of knowledge about a topic of their choosing.  they read books, conducted internet research, followed the scientific method, and investigated.  they came up with hypotheses, tested theories, observed results, and came to conclusions.

this song kept going through my head during the science fair today.  these kids were really doing it - testing it out.  i love the whole cd from they might be giants - it's called here comes science.  my friend jen is using the songs from the cd as a science sampler for her homeschooling adventure.

one of my truly favorite parts about science fair is interacting with diana.  she gets an idea in her head of what she wants to investigate.  the "book fairy" collects a plethora of resources from the library.  and for the next few weeks, the house and car (and everywhere else) is filled with the sounds of her explaining some new fact she has learned and her plans of how she will organize her information to share with others.

her project was about frogs.  all about frogs, in fact.  she learned a great deal about the life cycle of frogs, how poison dart frogs' toxin is collected, where a frog's tongue is attached in their mouths, and how large they can be.  she can answer questions about the difference between frogs and toads (you might be surprised at the answer).  in order to encourage people to learn more about frogs, she came up with the idea to offer a true/false quiz based on facts presented on her display board.  high scores earned each quiz-taker a hand-molded chocolate frog or a delightful little vinyl frog on a lily pad.  needless to say, that went over well.

 she's already planning for next year's project.  my little scientist.

i am happyer at home today for this community opportunity to share in our love of science.

oh, and for those of you who are interested in learning more about frogs, diana composed a list of her recommended resources:

Amazing Frogs and Toads (Eyewitness Juniors) by Barry Clarke
Frogs by Nic Bishop
The Complete Frog: A Guide for the Very Young Naturalist by Elizabeth Lacey
The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner
Hip-Pocket Papa by Sandra Markle
Poison Dart Frogs by Jennifer Owings Dewey
Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowly

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

a very harry potter party

none of this was mine.  i want to be up front with that.  but it was so well thought up and executed that i HAD to make sure it got documented somewhere.

diana was invited to a friend's birthday party.  of course, she wanted to go because it was for her friend - but when she learned it would be a HARRY POTTER PARTY she nearly flipped her lid with happiness.

we arrived and were immediately impressed with the creative signage.
after several rousing rounds of a "pass the parcel" trivia game, the end of which resulted in the enthusiastic consumption of chocolate frogs, each hogwarts student went to ollivander's to find a wand. there were so many choices of length, core, and wood; when they waved the right one in the air, a magical sound indicated that the wand had found its master.  
 the sorting hat activity went really, really well.  the kids waited for their turns with barely-contained enthusiasm and full of hope to be selected into the house of their choice.  when they realized the hat was actually talking TO them, all disbelief was suspended and magic was all around!  almost everyone was pleased; ander was sorted into slytherin at first, but the sorting hat was persuaded to take its time and reconsider.  he ended up in gryffindor, to his utter delight.

and the potion-making?  well, that was clearly a success, too, for all ages. 

the butterbeer was TOPS!  i may need to make it a grown-up recipe and add a splash of butterscotch schnapps.

bertie bott's every flavor beans and little owl stickers and rubber frogs hidden inside dragon's eggs filled a pinata cleverly crafted to look like a golden snitch.  the choice of a broomstick was perfect to whack the thing and send it spinning, wings all a-flutter.
well done, my friend!  what incredible attention to detail, every activity designed to appeal to the young partygoers.  i am duly impressed by how this was executed.  best of all, the birthday child and all the friends had a great time.