Wednesday, June 20, 2012

summer solstice

today is the summer solstice.  the longest day of the year.  it is a turning point.  a change of season.  a difference in view and perspective.

we started celebrating the solstices years ago when we lived in st. louis.  there was another family in our playgroup who also homeschool their daughter, who is the same age as diana.  (diana still considers her among her very best friends of all time, though we have been in california for three years now.  i feel the same way about the mama.)  we gathered for activities, food, music, and other rituals of recognition.

although she is in my mind quite often, my thoughts turn particularly to that dear mama friend on solstice.  i continue to wear the bracelets she made for me, and they make me feel closer to her.

tonight we light our themed beeswax candle (courtesy of a local artist, jan schubert) and sing a song of sunshine.

here are some family favorites:

here comes the sun by the beatles

why does the sun shine? by tmbg

why does the sun really shine? by tmbg

i can see clearly now by johnny nash

you are my sunshine - this is a particularly gentle version

i am happyer at home today because the love of family and friends, no matter where they are, keeps a little sunshine in my heart.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

muffins

muffins have been on our minds.

at morley's swim school, there are plenty of books available for the kids to read while they are waiting for their lesson.  one of them if laura numeroff's If You Give a Moose a Muffin.  ander loves to read this one, and he decided he wanted to be a moose and have me make muffins for him.  (tomorrow, maybe - today was too full to get to it.  plus it was like 103 degrees or something ridiculous like that outside and i'm afraid to turn on my oven without opening a window to let out the smoke.  don't ask.)

a friend posted a delightfully funny poem on facebook.  the author was not attributed, so i did a google search and i hope that my research was satisfactory and that i am acknowledging the correct author.

now, i only have two children, and the ages are different, and i prefer chai, but i can certainly relate to this.  it makes me feel better to know that my oft-scattered mama mind is not unique.  plus it gave me a great laugh!


If You Give a Mom a Muffin
By Beth Brubaker

If you give a mom a muffin,
she'll want a cup of coffee to go with it.
She'll pour herself some.
Her three year-old will come and spill the coffee.
Mom will wipe it up.
Wiping the floor, she will find dirty socks.
She'll remember she has to do laundry.
When she puts the laundry into the washer,
she'll trip over shoes and bump into the freezer.
Bumping into the freezer will remind her she has to plan supper.
She will get out a pound of hamburger.
She'll look for her cookbook
(How to Make 101 Things With a Pound of Hamburger.)
The cookbook is sitting under a pile of mail.
She will see the phone bill, which is due tomorrow.
She will look for her checkbook.
The checkbook is in her purse,
which is being dumped out by her two year-old.
Then she'll smell something funny.
She'll change the two year-old.
While she is changing the two year-old, the phone will ring.
Her five year-old will answer and hang up.
She'll remember she was supposed to phone a friend
to come over for coffee.
Thinking of coffee will remind her that she was going to have a cup.
She will pour herself some more.
And chances are,
if she has a cup a coffee,
her kids will have eaten the muffin that went with it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"thank you for putting my eyes in the water"

both kids are coming to the end of their first summer session at morley's swim school.  they each go for 30 minutes every weekday for two weeks.  diana's looking forward to the next session already; i wish i had signed ander up for more.

diana learned to swim when we were living in st. louis.  we were at the pool with friends, as we always did, and i remember diana swimming with a particular friend and his aunt, who was a delightful, energetic young woman who loved being around kids.  diana saw what he was learning to do with his aunt, and she asked if she could do the same.  i can't recall with a great deal of clarity, but i think it was the first circumstance in which she felt comfortable putting her face in the water.  from there on out she wanted to take swim lessons, which she did, and was even brave enough to go off both diving boards (low and high).

when we moved to california, we enrolled her in the city pool lessons. she said they were ok.  i found them to be less than satisfactory.  the next summer, we heard from locals about morley's swim school.  it's run by a lovely grandmother and grandfather who really, really know their stuff and really, really want kids to have a positive, enriching experience learning to swim.  woodland residents have learned to swim there; their kids are now attending.  the morleys have been doing this for over 40 years.

they run a well-organized, smooth operation.  the teacher-student ration is 1:2 or 1:3; diana lucked out and she was the only "deep-end dolphin" during this session at her morning class, so she pretty much had a private tutor for these two weeks, working on breath control, kicks, strokes and a little bit of diving, too.  this is her third summer at morley's and i am impressed by her developing confidence and skill.  i am not surprised, though, because it is so well structured and in such a supportive environment.

there is a pool supervisor who watches every child in every class and helps keep track of their individual skill development.  there are four teachers in each class: three work with children in the shallow area, one is in the deeper area.  the teachers in the shallow area trade off halfway through the class and quickly inform each other as to each child's current activity.  this is accomplished so quickly and effectively that the kids become comfortable working with different people on the same skill.

there is a lot of discussion and coordination about the kids.  it happens between teachers during the lesson, between the pool supervisor and observing parents/caregivers, among all of the staff during their breaks.  mr. morley even came to me at the end of the first class to talk about things we could work on at home together so that what was practiced and talked about at home and at swim school could reinforce each other.

they are the experts at teaching kids to swim, but they recognize that parents know their own children best.  they seek our input and make suggestions, asking for our thoughts when they think a change needs to be implemented.  it really is collaborative.  they understand that there are concepts that apply to most, but not all, kids, and that a method that works for many may not work for a particular few.  they really, really want to kids to succeed and feel good about their accomplishments.

the mood is positive there.  as ander and i walk to our lesson every day (our home is now around the corner so we can have a pleasant outing and not have to take the car), we can hear splashing and cheering.  ander says, "i hear happy kids.  we must be getting close to morley's."  there is no yelling, no admonishments, no criticism.  there is occasionally some crying on the part of a student, but it is handled gently and with the utmost respect for the child's needs and feelings and they are never forced to do something they fear.  gentle reminders of the rules, focusing on what the child is allowed to do, rather than what they cannot, keep the kids safe in the water.  mostly, there are smiling faces, specific praises for a skill, lots and lots of high fives - plenty of positive reinforcement.  kids watch each other swim and cheer for them and offer support.  the teachers model, describe, explain, correct, and reinforce individual elements of skills using terms that kids can understand and relate to.

the pool is heated, shaded from the scorching sun, and cleverly gated in a way that allows parents and siblings and other spectators to watch the lesson in an unobtrusive manner.  there is plenty of shaded seating, books for kids to read, clean bathroom/changing area, and a remarkably gentle and pleasant dog named "hush" in his own fenced area, always willing to be petted by an eager little hand.

and the best part, perhaps, is the choice of a jelly bean at the end of the class.  both diana and ander are excited about that, and eagerly tell me what flavor they ended up with.

two summers ago, ander and i participated in a mom-tot class.  it was mainly about water safety: how to stay on the edge until receiving the go-ahead to come in, how to turn over and do a back float, how to get to the edge and climb out.  part of the class is acclimating them to the sensation of going under water (i presume) so that they can develop trust in their ability to bob back to the surface and be ok.  we each held our child safely and securely, said, "one...two...three...UNDER water" and pulled their bodies in until their heads were just under and then right back up again without delay.  most of the kids in the class did fine with this.  but not ander.  this is the child who does not like his face to be wet, argues against hair-washing, and is disturbed by water in his ears or eyes.  after the first attempt, it took almost four days to coax him back into jumping into my arms in the water, which he had been doing happily before The Underwater Incident.

last summer we spent many days at a zero-entry shallow public pool where ander could wander in as deep as he cared to.  he started to love jumping in from the side into my arms, and i was careful to keep his head out of the water.  he traveled along the steps and put his mouth in, wide-open, of course.  thank goodness it was a salt-water pool and not a chlorinated one, from all the water i'm sure he must have consumed.  he was happy practicing to climb in and out and hang on the edge and lower himself into the water.

this summer, a couple of weeks before the session started, i asked ander if he wanted to go to swim class like sister.  (i had already signed him up a month before, hoping for the best.)  he said yes!  he had a fun new swimsuit he picked out himself. we talked about how he would have teachers to help him, and that mommy was not getting in but would watch him, as would sister.  he couldn't wait to walk in line with the other kids and find out where he would sit along the pool's steps.  he made a new friend, a little boy named maverick, who shared the same instructor.  from the first day, their enthusiasm and energy has been wonderful for the both of them.  ander looks forward to seeing his friend every day and announces to everyone how well maverick swims, showing his evident pride.

ander spent most of last week practicing "alligator arms," "big splash kicks," and "blowing bubbles like a rocket."  the teachers took their cues from him on his comfort level in getting his mouth, then nose in the water.  they listened to my descriptions of his past reactions to water and did not force him.  then, this tuesday, the pool manager asked my thoughts about having him try to put his whole face in; they thought he was ready to be stretched a little.  i took a deep breath, let them know i trusted their impressions, and agreed to let him try.  teacher julia was gentle, cheerful, and matter of fact about how he was going to put his face in the water, demonstrating it for him first.

a little tug from her to get him down under the surface of the water, and he did it.

i was white-knuckling the fence, a smile plastered on my face, fearing the inevitable reaction.

he beamed at me from across the pool and yelled, "i did it!  i put my eyes in the water!"

when it was next his turn, he did it again.  i did not see that coming.

i was kicking myself for not having remembered to bring the camera that day.  you'd think i would have learned my lesson from having missed my opportunity the friday before to video him, first in line to jump off the diving board into the waiting arms of an instructor who kept his head out of the water.  bless her.  at least i saw it.

wednesday was a little rough.  teacher christy got him under the water, but her words and style and approach, while friendly and comforting to him in many ways, were different from his first experience with julia, and he emerged from the water looking confused and distressed.  the pool manager came over to check in with me and we discussed trying one more time, then not pushing him to do more.  both of his teachers encouraged him gently and talked him through it, but he did not want to try again.

oddly enough, at least to me, was his calling to me again that he put his eyes in the water.  he clearly wanted to share his pride for having done it, even though he was uncomfortable.  or maybe it was his way of getting past his discomfort, by focusing on the accomplishment itself.

at the end of the lesson, after he had his jelly bean and was wrapped in his towel from neck to ankle, like a standing cocoon, he stopped each of his teachers and THANKED THEM.  he thanked them for putting his eyes in the water.

i was floored the first time.  this was unprompted, unanticipated, unexpected.  the teacher he spoke to first was julia, the one who had helped him his very first time, when it went well.  i was still reeling when the other teacher, christy, came out of the pool and he said the VERY SAME THING to her.  this was the teacher who had a different approach, when it did not go as well.

today (thursday) he required a lot of coaxing from christy during the first part of his lesson to get him to try putting his face in.  they had to rebuild the trust.  and they did.  julia was marvelous and kept a genuine smile on her face and spoke gently and encouragingly.

he put his face in the water SIX TIMES.  and he watched intently at every other child who was swimming with their faces in the water, including maverick.  i think he realized he had just entered a sacred group of Those Who Can Put Their Faces In The Water and Live To Tell About It.  on the walk home, he said that julia had helped him, and that christy had helped him, and that i had helped him.  he then asked if i wanted to be a teacher in the pool with them.  i am among the people he trusts.

i know my boy.  i am his mother.  he continues to surprise and amaze me and squeeze my heart so much i feel it might explode.  i am totally, utterly, helplessly in love with him.

i am happyer at home today because i witnessed a breakthrough in my son's life.  i think it was a breakthrough for me, too.

friday update:

steve and diana came along today for ander's last class.  his buddy maverick's grandparents were there to watch maverick.  a lot of family members were there all day, supporting their little swimmers and watching them go off the diving board.  it made the boys a little silly, and they sought our attention a little more, waving to us and asking if we saw what they did.  ander kept calling to me to watch how well maverick was doing, too.

both teachers were awesome with him.  they were consistent in their approach, at least from my vantage point, and he did not object.  in fact, jus near the end of class, julia asked him to try putting his face in and blowing bubbles at the same time, which he did.  she then asked him to try putting his face in all by himself, without any help to do so.

by golly, he must have been feeling really confident, because HE DID IT!

he was so excited to go off that diving board again.  the catcher kept his head above water, though his face was splashed, and he totally rocked that jump.

so, despite the fact that we will miss a couple of days because of an upcoming camping trip, we signed him up for the next session so we can ride the momentum of this success.  i don't know how he will feel about not having maverick in his class; having a buddy there gave him courage and focus.  i will certainly miss the company of maverick's mom, kim, because she was a delight and comfort to me as we watched our boys together.  my hope is that he (we) will make a new friend or two and continue building his (my) skills and especially his (my?) confidence.

finish on a high note.  it will keep 'em coming back for more!







Thursday, June 14, 2012

my phone is ringing

so, some friends were over for dinner, and one of their cell phones started ringing.  it was will ferrell as robert goulet, singing, "your phone is ringing, la de da do..."  it cracked me up.

i asked steve, my technological master handyman, to acquire this same ringtone for my phone, which he obliging did.

there have been two unintended reactions to this.  first, ander has developed quite a good rendition of will ferrell's robert goulet impression (i wonder what that's called, doing an impression of someone else's impression.  there's got to be a name for that, right?)  he changed it every so slightly to: "your soul is ringing" and now ALL of us in the house can't get it out of our heads.  we sing it almost absentmindedly, and it does come in handy on occasion to break up tension.

second, it has led to me be introspective (big surprise there).  what would lead me to adopt this ringtone?  there are plenty of options, why did i choose this one?  i came to me as i was sitting in a waiting room.  my phone rang, and the woman next to me smiled and laughed a little.  she did not know who it was, but the sound took her by surprise and in a pleasant way.

it does that to me, too.  it always startles me a little when the phone rings; it's not a particularly commonplace occurrence in our house.  instead of a jarring sound, though, as many ringtones can be to my ears, this one immediately evokes a happy, amused feeling, so that when i answer the phone i am smiling.  it puts me in a receptive-to-communication mood.  i feel more optimistic, more open to the possibility that i will enjoy the content of the call.

it may sound a little odd that i can get this from a ring tone.  but i bet i've got you thinking about it now, huh?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

do you know TED?

TED is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful resource.  TED's tagline is "ideas worth spreading."  the topics are interesting, the presenters are passionate, the questions raised are thought-provoking.  i am educated, entertained, delighted, and inspired by them.

my dad sent me a link to a beautiful video on pollination.  it was on youtube, but he let me know that it came from a TED talk, so looked it up and watched the whole presentation.  now i have found other breathtaking videos by the same filmmaker at movingart.

i want to know what other smart, curious, creative, forward-thinking, driven people are working on.  TED allows me to attend mini conference sessions from the comfort of my home.  i learn about the people behind the ideas - what ignites and propels them.  then i search out their work and learn more and more and more.  and i pass the ideas along, because they are worth spreading.

some of my favorites (so far):

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/adora_svitak.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_whitacre_a_virtual_choir_2_000_voices_strong.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/jer_thorp_make_data_more_human.html

i am happyer at home because i have TED right here with me.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

a matter of taste

it was a mommy-son weekend.  steve and diana took off for their daddy-daughter trip to san francisco; ander and i enjoyed a stay-cation at home.

the energy of our home is noticeably different depending on who is here at the time.  being a person who is renewed by quiet, solitary activities, i can sometimes be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sound in our household at times.  don't get me wrong, i really get into our singing and performing for each other and responding to the "mommy, look at this" from both of my children, usually at the same time.  but just as much, i am happy to have the chance to sit and read a book on the couch while diana reads one of her own and ander builds another lego rocket, humming happily to himself.

i attended more to ander's rhythm this weekend because i could.  the only schedule we needed to follow was our own based on what we mutually agreed upon to do.  he had a swim lesson on friday afternoon; i wanted to walk up to main street afterward but he was tired.  so we took our time on the way back, pointing out interesting things to observe.

i was pretty tired when we returned, not having slept well the night before, so we snuggled on the bed and read a few stories and listened to mozart and vivaldi.  with remarkably little protest, he let me take a nap and played on his own, then came to wake me up later to let me know he was hungry.  i was, too, and i knew exactly where we could go - top himalaya.

we learned about this place last year at the woodland farmer's market.  i already knew ander was fond of saag paneer - he calls it spinach rice - and the sauce from chicken tika masala - he calls it orange rice - from eating it at picnic in the park last summer at the davis farmer's market.  i was so pleased to find a place locally!

i love this place.  i wish they could attract more customers to ensure they stay in business.  the guys are really, really nice.  after the science fair we went for lunch there with a couple of other families and the kids watched with avid curiosity as they saw the naan dough pounded out, placed into the cylindrical tandoori oven, then pulled out with long tongs to be quickly cut and placed into a basket, ready to dip into delicious sauces.

it's nice, though, to be able to walk in somewhere and not have it be crowded.  way more relaxing for me.  and ander and i watched all the cooking, including the naan.  we shared our fragrant sauces over rice with each other; he liked the chicken this time and kept asking for more.  i love how ander shares an appreciation for that kind of spicy indian food with me.  the flavors are so comforting, and though i could tell the spice was getting to him, ander breathed through it, took a drink of water, and dove in for more.

this morning we went to impossible acres to pick fruit.  it was good that we were together, ander and i, because left to my own devices i might have picked ten pounds of cherries.  instead, we first searched for plums but found ourselves tempted by apriums.  they are a cross between an apricot and a plum.  so are pluots, but the former fruit has a texture and taste more closely resembling an apricot, while the latter is more like a plum.  anyway, they were just so pretty we tasted some right there and decided to fill a basket.  then we hunted for the cherries.  i was hoping that the difficulty in finding that fruit was due to a late ripening, but it turns out that the trees have been pretty well picked through with lots of people coming and getting as many as they could (that was me last year), so there aren't many left.  that's probably just as well.  i almost gave myself carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist from pitting about 20 pounds of cherries last year.  i froze them and ate them pretty much by myself.  mmmmm...

but i digress.  ander amused himself trying to spot trees that were worth investigating and then urged me to keep moving to find more.  we learned when we paid that the plums were farther along than we had traveled, but despite the fact that the plums were the main draw for ander coming to the orchard in the first place, he was not inclined to head back out again to find them.  it was a good call.  the wind and rising temperatures would have made us cranky if we pushed on.  we have enough fruit that we can eat it fresh.  i indulge myself sometimes in daydreams of canning and making preserves and all that, but then i wake up to the reality that i'm the only one who would it eat it.

my children have discriminating tastes.  ander turns his nose at apples that have soft spots or bananas that have gone mushy.  diana will only eat berries that are at the perfect point of ripeness, any more than that and they start getting squishy and the flavor begins to turn.  it makes it difficult to purchase acceptable ones at the store, but it does mean that we enjoy picking fruit ourselves in season, where we can determine each morsel's suitability by looking at the variations in color and testing the firmness using gentle pressure and sensing the ease with which the fruit falls off the stem.  our reward comes from tasting the fruit right at that moment, warm from the sun.  it is the epitome of whole foods in their natural state, and i am glad that diana and ander have developed a preference for that.  it may cause inconvenience because i cannot provide that year-round for them, but i consider it a positive that they will not settle for mediocrity or that which is commonplace because they know what is possible.

i'm sensing an allegory for life here.  looking for what is good, feeling happiness when we find it, and being restless when asked to be satisfied with the status quo.  maybe it's just a matter of taste.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

music that touches my mind and heart

when i was younger, i loved carl sagan and his pbs series cosmos: a personal voyage.  i actually cried after the final episode of the series aired because i was so sad it had come to an end and i would not be listening to his voice and watching him explore the universe.

of course, i own the dvd set now.  not sure if the kids will have the same interest, at least right now.  they are young, still.  so i can watch it by myself, which is what i'd prefer anyway.

when steve came across this song/video some time back, i felt that familiar delight in carl's voice and words.  the kids really like it, too, enough that it has made it to some of our home dance party mixes and some lyrical lines find there way into our everyday lives.  yes, we sing a lot during the day.  doesn't everyone?



today i came across another song/video, this time about mr. rogers.  it will be on our playlist in short order, as soon as i can show it to the kids.



the style of the mr. rogers song reminded me of the carl sagan song, and the article verified my thought that the same musician was involved.  the symphony of science is self-described as a project to bring scientific knowledge and philosophy to the public through music.

carl sagan and mr. rogers both taught me more about the world i live in and beyond.  so, in a way, they have helped shape my idea of home.  i am happyer at home today because of them.

shameless sharing from another source

so, there i was perusing facebook (yes, i am there and vacillate between loving it and hating it but i always end up going back regardless.  it's an addiction.) and i periodically find a post that i feel compelled to share.  not all of my loyal readers (and i don't know how many of you there are yet, perhaps as many as five, judging by the comments) are on facebook and so my sharing via that venue would not reach you.

so, here's a link to what i read.  i am the type who will read all the way to the end, so i saw where this was originally posted and went to that source and decided i might like to read more.  i love the web for this reason.  i can become so much more connected to the larger world, thereby expanding my horizons (or whatever the popular turn of phrase for this is right now).

diana, my darling daughter, this one's for you.

Monday, June 4, 2012

authors we like - laurence yep

our love for author laurence yep's work started with a book we acquired somehow: dragon's gate.  astute reader diana recognized the author's name on another book we borrowed from the library, and she liked that one, too.

since then, he has come in handy when studying historical events and cultural points of interest.  and he's fun to read, apparently.

she has enjoyed so far:

the rainbow people
tongues of jade
the star fisher
the khan's daughter: a mongolian folktale
the journal of wong ming-chung: a chinese miner, california, 1852
the earth dragon awaits: the san francisco earthquake of 1806
lady of ch'iao kuo: warrior of the south, southern china, a.d. 531

i love it when the kids recognize authors and illustrators by their work and ask for more by the same people.  not all selections work out, but if they get hooked by just the right book at the right time, it often leaves them open and hungering for more by that author.  sure makes it easier for the book fairy to find something new to put on the shelves in the house.  and it leads to curious discussions with diana as she notices similarities and differences within a body of work by one author.




treasure chest - science

one of the main reasons i started this blog was to create some organized (hah!) repository of information regarding our homeschooling.  rather than searching through my bookmarks, i could just search through my posts and find all kinds of treasures.

hence the idea of a treasure chest.  it's big (almost TARDIS-like, in my imagination), it's messy, but if you are patient and willing to comb through, you might find something you like.

plus it sounds so much more appealing than a junk drawer.

so here's where i'm going to start, with science, one of my favorite topics!  what you'll find in this edition of Treasure Chest is a list of all sorts of websites and stuff we use or have used (to the best of my memory) or have intentions to use (meaning, i have perused them and like them but haven't yet introduced them to the kids or i keep meaning to use it sometime in a later lesson).  i'm not offering an evaluation of each; if it made it to the list, it was worth at least a little of our while.  if you want to know more about our experience with a particular one, please ask and i'll be happy to follow up.  homeschoolers just looooove to talk about what they are doing, and i am no exception.

classes:

lab rat academy - rocks & minerals, cell biology

curricula:

r.e.a.l. science odyssey from pandia press - level one for life, earth & space, and chemistry
real science 4 kids from gravitas publications - elementary and middle school levels of physics

websites (in no particular order):

brainpop
supercharged science
chemistry.org
chem4kids
middle school chemistry
interactive periodic table
physics4kids
how to smile
ology
science of cooking
kids health
neuroscience for kids
dragonflyTV 
nise network
harvard natural sciences lecture demonstrations
did you ever wonder
everyday mysteries

music/videos:

tmbg here comes science cd and dvd set

wow, just the process of combing through some of my resources has renewed my enthusiasm for them.  creative juices are flowing.

i am happyer at home because i have the ability to gain access to so much right from my home sweet home.






Sunday, June 3, 2012

writing

so i was perusing some of my favorite blogs (yes, that's what i do for fun on a saturday night when everyone else is asleep.  it's like the beginning of a conversation with someone where the other person speaks first and is able to do so without interruption and with editing so the words come out the way they are intended.) and i came across a new post over at wonderfarm. it's about writing.

i really like what she has to say, both in this post and the one prior.  it coincides a lot with what i have learned from one of my homeschooling mama friends and from a dear friend i have known since college whose writing and opinion i hold in high regard.

so diana has writing time, pretty much every weekday.  and she loves it, for the most part, particularly because she is usually the one who chooses the time and place and topic and she can maintain her space as an environment conducive to her creative process.

it's been an interesting and sometimes difficult journey for me to get to this point.  i remember how we would fight over her writing.  i'm not talking about the focus on penmanship or spelling or grammar; i'm referring to the process and product.  she's a bright lass, so how difficult could it really be for her to write a nice little paragraph based on a prompt i gave to her?  quite difficult, as it turned out.  we had tried one of the classical education curricula for writing for a little while, but it soon fell flat with us.  having excerpts from wonderful stories wasn't enough for her, she wanted the whole stories themselves.  the approach and style of the workbook was intriguing and comfortable to me - it made sense, it followed a structure, it told me what to do with her each day.  it just didn't fit her, and after the novelty of it wore off, it became a struggle and a chore, not what we wanted our lesson in writing to be about.

i admit i had more than a little apprehension about our charter school's annual prompted writing assignment, and i didn't handle it well.  i figured i could just condition her to get comfortable writing on demand.  i had her sit down every day at her desk for a specified amount of time and engage in "some part of the writing process," even if that meant staring at a blank page until something was ready to come out of her mind and onto the paper.  hah!  what was i thinking?  some days it went ok because she had something to write about, but all too often it resulted in resistance.  again, not what we wanted for this experience.  i cringe when i think of those times and how much i could have turned her against writing altogether.  i'm so glad we have gotten past that.

when i was open and ready to ask for and consider the suggestions of the two friends i mentioned above, i think things took a turn for the better.  i backed off a lot and relaxed my expectations and removed pretty much all of the structure.  now writing time is still on the daily to-do list, but only because it is important enough that we want to make sure we allow the time for it amongst our other activities and lessons.  diana has the freedom to type a document on the computer, correspond via email, post on my blog, hand write in any of her ever-growing collection of notebooks (of all sizes, shapes, and styles), and use pencil, pen, crayon, marker, or feather quill and raspberry ink.  she has written letters, created advertisements, edited newspapers, and written and sometimes illustrated poetry, short stories, and series of short books.  she has been inspired by music and has even composed songs along with lyrics.  she is always free to keep her writing private, share it with whom she chooses, or destroy it.  she has expressed interest in self-publishing and envisions writing as a career.

now that's more like what i want for her!

and when she has those days where the writing just doesn't come, when it is so frustrating and unsatisfactory to her that she throws her hands up in despair, i send her to her books so she can read more of what she loves, learn from the authors she admires, lose herself in that magical limbo of time and space when absorption in a story is so complete that the rest of the world simply does not exist.

two books about authors/writing that are currently at the top on her list are:

five pages a day by kehret

spilling ink: a young writer's handbook by potter and mazer

about the second book - after reading through part of it, diana said to me that it is the first book she has read about writing that is really useful to her.  it doesn't talk about what to do so much as it relates what has worked and hasn't worked in the experience of the authors.  it offers ideas but leaves it up to the reader to decide what might or might not work for them.  i think i may just have to read it myself.

and while writing this post, i came across this site.  yet more fodder for my late-night reading, and more cheerful than the book i'm currently reading, amy tan's the kitchen god's wife.

i am happyer to be at home today because my daughter said, "that's why i keep you around, to help me find the things i've lost."  i like being her navigator.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

a father's love

steve shows his love for our children in so many ways.  he impressed me with two things in particular over the past several days:

he handled a difficult situation the other night with diana magnificently.  where i was feeling angry and hurt and was unlikely to keep my cool, he took care of things and was calm, matter-of-fact, and respectful in his approach with her.  he did not punish or blame, but instead described our expectations and invited her to participate in a discussion with him about those expectations and how to meet them.  he gave her the opportunity to engage, ask questions, and answer them, too. and he listened to her and heard what she had to say.  there were no harsh tones or explosions of exasperation from either; both of them emerged from the long talk feeling connected and with resolve to work together to meet a common goal.  i was calmer just having listened from another room, and diana came to me afterwards to reconnect with me.

steve has such a gift with words.  it is just one part of what makes him a wonderful teacher; it is a very important part, though.  i wish i had the same facility with language and nuance that he does.  it's not just that, he also has an incredibly (to me) optimistic attitude towards people and life in general.  he sees things for how they could be, and it's in a positive way.  he's a forward-thinker, able to put things in a long-range perspective.  he can be thoughtful and appreciate things from the past without getting mired down by them.

he is also a creative and ingenious problem-solver.  shortly after steve's return home, ander's infatuation with his new space station legos turned towards an intense craving for the lego space shuttle.  while we'd love to get the kids every lego set their precious hearts desire, it's just not feasible to do so.  when steve was sorting through some of his more vintage pieces, he realized that there were quite a few white pieces.  enough to make his own version of a shuttle, in fact.  so he got to work forming the base; he knew if he could get that, the rest would surely come.  and he was right.

open door #1 - the payload bay - to find a satellite
open door #2 to find four astronauts, two of them at computer terminals

that's not even the best part, though.  after having assembled it, he took it apart, piece by piece, and took pictures of every step.  that way, ander had his very own set of instructions to build the space shuttle, with a little help from daddy, of course.  brilliant!

the kids have come to see steve as the "daddy-who-can-do-anything."  he promised diana he would build her a playhouse, and he did. 








ander asks him to create a structure from duplos or legos or play-doh, and steve finds a way to fulfill that wish.  he makes their birthday cakes based on whatever they ask for or really love: most recently a toadstool for diana and the st louis arch for ander.

this thing was a foot tall!


steve lives what he believes - the first answer to a question can be a "yes."  what a refreshing and lovely way to experience life, and how beneficial for our children to be raised in such an encouraging environment.

i am happyer to be at home today because i live and learn and parent with my best friend and partner for life.