Monday, September 30, 2013

adventures of a homeschooler in public school, week four

lots going on for diana these past two weeks.  since my last report, she:

- likes walking to school.  it's not a long walk, there is a pleasant path, and she can warm up her muscles and prepare herself for the day.  she doesn't even mind carrying her viola on strings days.  (also mighty convenient for me on days where ander doesn't go to school while he's sick, she can walk there and back on her own.)

- volunteered to be a row captain in chorus where she would get to check attendance and distribute and collect music.  she wanted to take on the position to have some responsibility and take active roles in her classes.

- thinks there should definitely be more bathroom and water breaks throughout the day.  if you ask to go during class, you miss something.  if you ask to go while transitioning to another class, you hold up the whole line of students and risk public admonishment.  if you go before lunch, you lose out on the all-important initial minutes to determine the seating arrangement for the meal. oh, and it applies to your buddy, too, because they often have to go in pairs.

- had a schedule change so that the students can have science and social studies every day, rather than just one subject for a week at a time, much to their satisfaction.

- would probably like more from science class.  having two scientists as homeschooling parents providing opportunities for all sorts of lab and field work meant that she was immersed in hands-on science as a way of life for many years.  she already knew how to describe what science is and how to use the scientific method.  she's looking to go beyond the memorization of facts, which, while interesting if it's a catalog of the weird-but-true, just doesn't draw her in as much.

- was told by the school librarian that she was checking out an unreasonable number of books.  (guess she has to leave some for other students.)  but, the librarian was amused when diana did a little happy dance each time she found interesting new books to read, some she had been hoping for but did not know they had been published yet.  so, there were high-fives for that.

- doesn't get to see ander at recess anymore, due to more schedule changes, but she now has the chance to reunite and reconnect with him during overlapping lunchtimes.  he looks for her when she comes in to the cafeteria, beaming a huge smile and waving to her.  she goes over to meet his friends and find out what they are doing.  many of her own schoolmates have siblings, some of them at the same school, and have told her they are quite envious of the relationship the two of them have together.  he is quite obviously happy to see her and introduce her around, and she is loving and attentive and fiercely protective of him and kind to his classmates.

- has found some solace during a busy day.  though lunchtime can be loud with multiple attempts at conversations across tables and jockeying for position in who-sits-next-to-whom, diana has retreated to her books.  it seems to suit her buddies just fine: she can join in or withdraw from conversation as she likes and can set an example for maintaining the new "cup" status (three cups on each table - cup is green, we get 2 'noise points.'  teacher turns over the yellow cup, 'noise point' number goes down to 1.  red cup is 0 points.)

- told her grandparents this weekend that she already knows about half of what's being covered in her studies so far, with the other half being either completely new (we didn't really address geography as a subject separate from history), or covered sufficiently long enough ago that she did not recall with clarity many details, so she appreciates the refreshers.

- uses the same language arts curriculum we had been using at home, at the next appropriate level.  it makes me feel good to have some continuity there for grammar and vocabulary.  she likes having that familiarity and getting back to more formal study of word roots and etymology.

- is getting grades for pretty much the first time in her life.  the school does not give letter grades but assigns numbers that correspond to how well the student met the standard for the assignment.  (i wonder if this is a common core thing?  I need to do some research.)  diana also says they are mostly evaluated on their effort.  when i challenged her on how a teacher could evaluate how hard she was trying, she said, "oh, they just know."

- received a kindle from one of steve's coworkers who was passing it along.  it's an older model but suits diana's needs.  she registered it at school but was quite disappointed to learn she was not permitted to take it into the cafeteria or out to recess, which are two places where she'd most like to read and not have to carry books along with her (and if she actually spills food on a school library book at lunch, woe to her).  there are so many free kindle books and plenty to borrow from the public library.  she stills prefers the feel of reading a paper book, loving the smell and the heft, but is quickly coming to appreciate the sheer amount of content she can have at her fingertips.

- was recognized by her art teacher for techniques she used in her triptych project.  i don't know if she sees it the same as i do (probably not), but i noticed some influences from the zentangle art we've explored, with color and shading and perspective from her lessons with miss becky and monart classes early on in california.

the subject was "migration"
the moving truck

meteor crater

our new home

 - came to an epiphany regarding the concept of "good readership" as it applies to her class.  within discussions, classmates suggested characteristics of a good reader and the teacher either agreed or corrected them on their ideas.  unfortunately, some of what diana has done in developing as a reader was contradictory to what was explicitly stated on the list, so she was starting to feel like she was not a good reader in the opinions of her teacher and classmates.  this struck her as demoralizing and confusing because reading has been one of her very favorite activities and she is quite adept at it.  it nagged at her that instead of focusing on one book until she finishes it, she reads several books concurrently, keeping the different storylines separate in her head.  she reads a wide range of books in varied "levels" rather than concentrating on "just hard enough" books because she finds the value in both stretching and relaxing her mind, appreciating how beautiful illustrations enhance the experience of reading what some might call too-easy-picture-books, sampling abridged versions of "great works" to see if she has interest in reading the original works (which she often does).  rather than always reaching for a new title, she reads and rereads her favorites in between new acquisitions, gaining something a little different each time, picking up a new detail or comprehending a perspective that she hadn't before.  she doesn't have as much of a taste for "learning books" that often come across at too textbooky or dry, but eagerly soaks up non-fiction in captivating stories in the smithsonian magazine, usborne reference materials, and other compendia.  she readily exposes her mind to many forms of poetry, classics, (auto)biographies, mythology & folk tales, and a wide assortment of fiction, including historical fiction diaries, fantasy, and science fiction.  she gets bogged down in tracking the number of minutes or pages read or writing down the questions she wants to answer because she is just so immersed in her reading that she is in the flow.  minding such details is distracting and tedious, and when she has a question, she reads on to find out for herself, or comes to me to discuss her thoughts.  this girl does not need a list of rules to follow in order to become a good reader - she is a good reader who still has plenty of room to grow.  we talked at length and several times about this and she now realizes that the list doesn't have to apply to her, especially as an absolute and/or comprehensive resource, and that it did have some excellent points.  she now appreciates that her teacher is speaking to a whole roomful of students, some of whom do not enjoy reading at all or struggle with it, and the list suggestions may be designed to inspire and encourage habits to build reading skills.  so, she decided to read what and how she is instructed to do so in school, but that will not affect her choices of reading elsewhere and elsewhen.

- has had enough homework to give her something to do after school but not so much that she's mired down.  and she's been doing a marvelous job of keeping track of her schedule and responsibilities.  i will be the first to admit that i was concerned that she'd struggle with this, but it seems like second nature to her now.

so, rounding up a decent first month of public school.  wonder what will happen when the novelty wears off?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

on the first day of autumn, my true love(s) said to me. . .

good morning!  happy fall!

diana greeted us bright and early last sunday morning, despite the fact she had gone to bed late the night before.  she was so excited about the autumnal equinox and had so many plans that she "did not want to sleep her day away."

she cuddled up next to her sleepy brother, who declared, "i want to go to a pumpkin farm."

after they chatted for a while (i have little memory of this, as i was drowsy and enjoying the cool smell of morning from the still-open window), diana disappeared.  after some undetermined time later, she announced her presence with a piece of paper, on which was written the address of a pumpkin farm.  she had, she explained, googled for local pumpkin farms, visited their websites, evaluated their offerings, prices, and travel distances, and came up with wayside farm.  a particular bonus about this place was its partnership with wegmeyer farms, where we had gone to pick strawberries.  their farm was not yet open for public perusal.

i cannot fathom how it could have been a better afternoon.

you know things are going to be just fine when you are welcomed by a giant spider

they grow 70 varieties of pumpkin

the other side of the big red barn opened up on a wonderland. ander went straight for the trucks.

diana tried out the pumpkin playhouse and the combine-converted-to-a-slide

we heard the john deere tractor bringing back the hayride trailer, so we joined up with the next load of passengers

ander felt right at home surveying the fields with his soft jacket, tromping boots, and "carl sagan pants"

we got to touch the cornstalks as we drove by and stopped to talk about growing soybeans

"yes. i love my job." said farmer philip when i asked if he enjoyed what he did.


and goats

and llamas, oh, my!
wolf spider mama with her babies
there were plenty of snacking options and spaces to sit and enjoy the spectacular weather.  the pulled pork sandwiches were especially yummy with the addition of a sassy southern "diggety" sauce.  pizza for the girl and kettle corn for the boy and we were covered.  more energy for more activities, like rubber duck racing, tiny tractor racing, and pumpkin bowling.

he's actually a decent bowler under typical conditions.

ander got a spare!

this playhouse had three levels to climb in, plus the slide

back through the big red barn and out to the fields for our catch of the day

i'm beginning to love these little "ghost" ones so much

the texture on these bumpy ones is quite soothing

he thought he found just the right one

but after we cut it and cleaned it off, he realized that it was too tall. so steve took that one.

of course, she picked out a mini pumpkin. her very favorite size, after all.

after continuing his search, ander found his "perfect pumpkin - round and orange like the sun."

the weigh-in

riding in style
after getting settled back into the minivan, ander sighed and said, "that was great."  it sure was, especially when we followed it up with a session of pumpkin biscuit baking and making the first split-pea soup of the season. (i used salt pork for flavoring for the very first time.  whoa.)  the beautiful lighting came from our seasonal assortment of candles - beautiful to see and to smell.

seasons greetings from all of us to all of you!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


the temperatures have finally started to drop, perhaps in anticipation of the autumnal equinox.

pretty soon, it will be too cold to splash around in buttermilk creek.  then i'll have to console myself with the memories of this summer's experience with taryn & joy & their lovely mama.

my kids each had the chance to go creeking while at their respective summer camps; diana had come to this very spot, in fact, and was excited to spend more time exploring.  ander had been reluctant to get in the water with his fellow campers, but this quieter, calmer, lingering-over-every-cool-thing group of girls was perfect for him to feel comfortable and curious.

a walk in the woods is idyllic with no one else around

shallow, clear water . . .

. . . with inviting stepping stones

out for an "explore"

come over here with me, sister

testing the waters

venturing in

and thanks to this lovely lady . . .

. . . i'm actually in a picture.
we'll be back in the spring.  maybe with a sack full of buttermilk biscuits to snack on.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

what happens when i don't speak

diana came home with an illness last week.  as often happens, the germ got a grip on me and ander.  we are almost all recovered, but i have a lingering symptom: laryngitis.

it's been instructive to me to pass time without speaking.  whispering only when i absolutely need to, signing (rather ineffectively) with those who can understand it (mostly ander), and writing.  thank goodness for email and texting.

mostly, i've been listening.

and hearing.

and watching.

and noticing.

and responding.  differently.

when one of the kids or steve called for me, i whistled, and they came to find me, rather than yelling across rooms or between floors.  our "conversations" require face-to-face interaction.

i showed more of what i'm feeling in nonverbal ways and exaggerated it to get my idea across.  the kids were picking up more on what they saw rather than heard from my tone of voice.

ander continued to ask me his stream of "why" questions, but started to suggest answers on his own.  longer, more complex answers rather than fragments.  my attentive silence prompted him to continue, rather than cut him short.  he was more willing to go to other family members with spoken requests.  he paid attention when diana read a passage from her book to us and asked her to repeat it for him, then read more.

diana came home from school the past couple of days and sat down and talked with me about the things that happened.  i watched her, nodded, smiled, or frowned in sympathy with her stories.  i interrupted less.  i asked fewer questions than i usually do and i think i may have gotten more answers that way, certainly more about what she was interested in sharing.

i played over and over a particular symphonic cinema remix of the song i recorded as part of eric whitacre's virtual choir 4.  instead of singing along, as i might have done, i simply listened.  i'm certain i would have missed the nuances of the orchestration if i even been humming along.

a friend told me about a woman who "fasts from talking" once a month.  i did not stop speaking this day by my choice, but out of my experience comes a realization that i want to deliberately explore more.

i like what happens when i don't speak.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

a foray into the public arena

ander loves youtube.

really loves it.  for so many reasons.

there seems to be no limit to what he can find there: lego reviews, space vehicle launches, lego stop-motion construction, men's cliff diving, diy models of all sorts, model rocket launches, random science, womens' 10m platform synchronized diving, more lego reviews, wall-e movie segments, hello dolly movie dance routines, other kids working on legos and science, disney cars toy reviews, lego movies, sesame street's murray has a little lamb segments . . .

he knows how to use his browser bookmarks, thank goodness, because i don't know how else i would keep track of what he's talking about.  i've been working with him to have him locate and read to me the titles of his favorites, because most often he'll just hum the music that accompanies the video, if it has music, and i have to ask diana to help me decipher which video he's referring to.  of course, if i still can't figure it out, he knows how to backtrack through his related links to find just the video he's looking for.  i trust him to get me out of a maze more than i'd trust myself.

at first glance, one might get the impression that there's not much going on with him but simply watching over and over and over.  but he doesn't just watch them.  he studies them.  absorbs them.  learns them inside and out.  he imitates every nuance of every voice, memorizes every accent and phrasing and gesture (which is especially frustrating when a word is mumbled or pronounced incorrectly, because we have to spend a lot of time fixing the inaccuracy in his speech).

he acts them out.  he directs us and everyone else around him to act with him, and he's a stern taskmaster when it comes to his direction: do it like this!  if we don't succeed, he'll include us in rehearsing again and again, tweaking our performance until we have mastered it to his satisfaction.  beyond mere replication, though, which is impressive enough as it is (performance artists, scientists, experts in any field recognize the importance of replication in skill-building), he uses these videos as a springboard for his own creative output.

via youtube, he has access to instructions for whatever he wants to know more about, whether it's launching a model rocket, testing rocket fuel, or building a paper rocket.  consistent, clear-spoken, enthusiastic, engaging, thoughtful, and thorough descriptions and explanations appeal to him most and keep him coming back again and again.

he is inspired to try new things, his eyes open to possibilities of what he might want to participate in or try for himself, feeling a sense of self-confidence, community, and connection when he sees others sharing similar interests.

what you are about to see is a collaborative project of ours.  ander loves watching videos about making slime, actually making slime on his own, showing others how to make it.  i love documenting what he does and want to build my skills in using youtube for video editing.  i realize am stretching him a bit by creating this video; this was not his idea to do so, but when i showed it to him and told him about sharing this video with others, he got excited about making slime for and with other people, even wanting to bring his materials to school to teach his class how to make it.

we hope you like it.

the ingredients we used in our video:

mixture one
1 small bottle of elmer's non-toxic school glue (5 oz clear or 4 oz white)
1/2 cup water
liquid food coloring - enough drops to make the color of your heart's desire

mixture two
1/2 tsp borax
1 cup warmish water - remember, temperature makes a difference when dissolving solids into liquids

Friday, September 13, 2013

adventures of a homeschooler in public school, week two

diana is finishing up her second week of public school.  here's some of what she's experienced so far, in no particular order:

  • orientation.  she was excited to come the first few days and find out where she would sit and keep her belongings and learn "how to learn at school" and find out what the rules are and acclimate herself to her new surroundings, but she was starting to wonder when she'd get to actually learn something.  (it has started, thank goodness.)
  • dress code.  the only thing that bothers her about this is that she's not permitted to wear her lucky hat.  otherwise, she feels comfortable wearing her own style in school.
  • scheduling.  her lunchtime comes late in the day for her.  she's starving by then, especially after recess.  fortunately, she's permitted to have a small snack and water breaks in the morning to keep her blood sugar levels more even (that is, when she remembers to take them).  the nice thing about her schedule, though, is that her recess overlaps with ander's, so they can see each other during the day and it perks ander up so much to spend time with diana and her friends.
  • lateness.  there is a penalty for being tardy.  all my years of admonishing her to "hurry up" has only served to make us both unhappy.  i do hope that our more pleasant and effective habits of building in extra time and not adding extra duties before walking out the door will serve her well in ensuring her timeliness.  as one of my instructors used to say, "be dressed and ready to play" for each and every class, meaning show up on time with your materials and prepare your brain for a mental state of openness to learning.
  • sick days.  when she homeschools, it's easy enough to move things around to accommodate illness.  in public school, there are things she misses or has to catch up on, because things still move forward, even when she cannot participate.  plus, she has to justify her absence.  only a contagious, symptom-full illness is excused in the eyes of the system.  she's taking a sick day today with a fever and cough and nasal congestion that makes her dizzy.  she didn't want to miss school, as she was looking forward to taking a quiz that she's studied hard for, but understood it would not be fair to spread her germs to her classmates and teachers.
  • multiple teachers, multiple classrooms.  she's used to going to different people and places to guide her lessons, so that's not too big of a deal.  she gets a little confused trying to keep track of when she is to go where, so she appreciates reminders from her teachers, and she's learning to use a written organizer to help herself in some semblance of order.
  • differentiated learning.  there's already separation of students by subject for advanced learning in mathematics.  everyone, though, has access to the advanced academic model for science, which is great.  (plus, the students have access to diana, who had to "educate" her small group members about the fact that science is a process, not a thing.  her teacher was enthusiastically supportive of this.)
  • extreme hermione hands are not welcome.  you know, how she practically climbs upon her desk in snape's class to be recognized and called upon for an answer.  diana may sit quietly and raise her in a calm manner, not enthusiastically clawing her way to the ceiling.  that will prove to be an effort.  (we coined the phrase here at home but do not refer to it in school that way.)
  • relatively little homework.  in fact, none in the first week.  unlike many students she's heard about, she actually looks forward to homework.  admittedly, it helps when the assignments includes reading something challenging of her own choice, which is an activity she already likes to do, so it's not really work and she gets credit for it.
  • PE class is more of a health class.  she understands that's probably the most appropriate place for health education to happen at school, but she was expecting to be more physical in phys. ed. she also noted that one of her teachers has a beard like hagrid's that students can get lost in if they're not careful.
  • library.  she likes that there is a school library and a book selection in her classroom.  she looks forward to her rotation as a library assistant (she does want to be a librarian, among other vocations, when she's out on her own) and hopes to see me there.  i signed up through the pta to be a volunteer librarian; we'll see if that works out for me.
  • student government.  diana decided to run for office as class representative.  although she did not win the election, she was pretty excited about the possibilities and felt that the process and results were fair.  she took a chance on a different way of campaigning: instead of talking about herself and her interests, she focused on the greatness of the class and how she would strive to help it continue to improve.
  • social hierarchy.  she was informed by a classmate about how things work at school.  there's a "popular" crowd and then everybody else.  and it only applies to the girls in the 5th and 6th grades, and the girls from the younger grades all look up to them and hope to be them someday.  apparently, the vote is still out on whether diana will be considered popular.  she hopes that she won't be, because she doesn't care for the way some of the "popular" kids tend to look haughtily on others.  she told me, though, that not all of them do that, so she thinks that's good, and appreciated that there isn't an apparent "outcast" group and that the boys don't participate in the "popular" differentiation.  diana figures that if she's considered popular, it will be because she's weird, but her friend assured her that she'd be known as "the nice one."
  • recharging.  she does need alone time to recharge after school, having expended all of her social energy being with others all day.  her only real time to talk freely with others is in the lunchroom, where it is noisy and crowded and hard to hear and people eat with horrid table manners, or at recess, which is the time of day when ander can be comforted by seeing and playing with her.  so, after arriving home, she usually wants to sit in her room and read and reconnect with her ratties.
  • string orchestra.  we'd been anticipating the selection of an instrument to practice this year with some trepidation.  diana already has a few years of piano under her belt and was hoping to continue, but the school does not offer piano instruction.  she then turned to flute, having heard that piano players tend to do well with flute because of finger dexterity and reach.  plus the case is so darn cute and small.  but, when she heard a harry potter song (hedwig's theme) played on the viola by the strings instructor, she was hooked.  she wants to learn how to play that and the theme song to game of thrones.  forget flute!
  • chorus.  i admit that i was hoping she'd want to try this, but when i asked, she declined and said that i could teach what she needs to know about singing.  while flattering, it was not true - i'm not a vocal instructor and singing alone or in a duet is totally different from singing with a group.  fortunately, the students are all required to try two classes of chorus and then make their decision afterwards.  diana was so pleased with the sound of the whole group together performing a canon and the encouragement that the teacher offered in terms of improving one's individual voice, that she thinks she will join after all.  ah, my heart is overjoyed!  of all the things i had hoped for diana in school, it was to find a group of others with whom she could share a common interest.  i believe she will find it here, just as i did during my school years and beyond.
she's also discovered some things about herself:
  • she doesn't mind getting up in front of a small group to "perform."  she's anxious about getting in front of a crowd to play piano or dance or sing, but standing up and presenting to a room full of classmates is not a big deal.  in fact, one of the reasons that she ran for student government was the opportunity to hone her public speaking skills.  (mind you, she decided to to this on. her. own.  not me suggesting or urging or persuading.  she's at a level of self-awareness and self-confidence and maturity that she sees on her own what she'd like to do and takes - or makes - opportunities when they present themselves.  i could not be prouder of her.)
  • she can set trends.  there was a moment in school where everyone was trying on her glasses to see what they were like.  one of her friends remarked that she needed to go and have her eyes checked to make sure she was seeing ok, and lo and behold, that friend is now coming back to school with a pair of purple-framed glasses.
  • how she expresses herself and her choice of education depends upon her audience.  to most of her friends and others more familiar with the public school system, diana describes herself as a public-schooler.  to homeschooling families, though, she said she's really a homeschooler who just happens to be attending public school for her curriculum this year.
diana has realized that being a homeschooler in public school is not such a big deal to anyone in there.  though she knows no one else in school who has been previously homeschooled, she's not been teased or really questioned about it.  to homeschooling friends and families she is a tremendous source of information and a curiosity; they want to know what it's like for her.  i am grateful that she's willing to share her experiences and insights with us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

an utterly charming little film

typically, i don't just post a video.  maybe i include one where relevant, but mostly it's my words and photos.

today, a homeschooling mom posted to the group about a book and short film she and her daughter discovered at the library.  she wanted to share it with us.  i just watched the film and want to share it with you.

it's about books, and life, and magic, and love.  i hope you enjoy it as much as i did.  i'd love to hear what you think of it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

a new rat-i-tude

we're a little unusual when it comes to pets.

when i was a child, i was only permitted to have pets that remained in their own environment, like an aquarium tank.  so, i had hermit crabs (utterly adorable, especially when they smear themselves with peanut butter).  we also kept fish, until the plecostomus ate the danios and tetras instead of the algae and kept getting bigger and scarier.  he lasted forever.  since being in our own homes, we'd love to have cats as our constant companions, but steve and i are both allergic.  none of us are particular dog people.  we've been the caretakers for three rabbits (one at a time) since i fell in love with my freshman-year-of-college's-roommate's minilop.  we took in a sweet yellow & green parakeet that showed up on our doorstep, obviously someone's pet but with no owner to be found; when that lovely one passed, we got another.  off and on we've had fish; i had a little tank of black mollies at my first job to help me relieve my stress, and diana kept her siamese fighting fish alive for many months.

years ago, diana wanted a tarantula.  really, really wanted a tarantula.  she only gave up on that dream because she knew it would not make everyone in the house ecstatic (for the record, i was perfectly happy with the choice.  i have held tarantulas and find them to be utterly fascinating.  then again, i would love to have a ball python as a pet but that's not going to happen here, either.)  also, tarantulas are more for watching than they are for holding, and diana wanted something she could pet more often.  so she got the fish, but, whatever.

now we have rats.

not mice, or gerbils, or hamsters, or guinea pigs.  rats.

she figured, if she couldn't have a corn snake (miss becky from lab rat academy had one that kept them company whilst exploring watercolor art), a rat would be the next best thing.

ok, then.

i worked with rats before.  as a high-school and college volunteer at COSI, i had the chance to introduce museum visitors to mealworms, baby chickens, snakes, and rats.  i must admit that the snakes were my favorite, especially rosie, the boa constructor, who i wore around my hips like a fashionable belt.  the kids were all excited but most of the moms freaked out and the dads stared from a distance.  but that's ok; that's what i was there for, the docent who could talk quietly to the young ones who thought the snake was really cool and hadn't learned yet to be afraid of them and oh-can-i-please-touch-it and wow-that's-not-what-i-expected-it-to-feel-like.  also, i carried rats in my lab coat pockets (not at the same time i carried the snake, though she was kept well-fed by other means).  other docents had trained the rats to play a miniature version of basketball.  they were adorable, smart, and friendly.  and i was never bitten.

i honestly cannot remember what first put the idea into diana's head.  certainly not scabbers, ron's awful pet-that-was-actually-an-animagus in harry potter world.  he was detestable for his behavior.  templeton, the well-known character in charlotte's web, certainly contributed to the stereotype of rats being mean and dirty.  she's had a book called walter: the story of a rat by barbara wersba, for ages, and i think it highlighted rats in a favorable way, as did the wind in the willows.

maybe it was because diana roots for the underdog.  she wants to discover and bring to light the good in those who have been maligned or disparaged.  yes, she knows that rats are associated in peoples' minds with the bubonic plague, but she also knows that it was the bacteria on the fleas on the rats and mice and other rodents that was the actual culprit.  she knows that rats are highly intelligent and sociable creatures and keep themselves fastidiously well-groomed.

when we moved to virginia, i started asking around homeschool groups to see if there were any fellow rat enthusiasts.  nothing turned up.  a google search led me to big city rattery in richmond, and a most delightful, knowledgeable, and caring fancy rat breeder.  we corresponded back and forth for months; our relationship culminated in diana's adoption of a pair of sweet brothers from a carefully cross-bred litter.

during the mama's gestation, diana and i researched rats and their care.  she purchased an ample home to fit the boys' anticipated adult size and decorated it with soft materials to comfort them.  she read my pet rat by arlene elrbach and started investigating the complete guide to rat training: tricks and games for rat fun and fitness by debbie ducommun.  she poured over pictures from the breeder, looking at the parental pair, the newborns all pink and blind, the babies with bits of fur and eyes opening, videos of their squirming mass of energy in the nursery cage.  diana had originally dreamed of having females, but the breeder persuaded us that the males were, on average, gentler, calmer, and easier to work with than the females.  diana specified her preference of colors, but left it up to the breeder to select males with sweet dispositions.  when they were weaned and securely eating on their own, the breeder contacted us. and we arranged the meeting.

meet the rattie boys:

prince ivan (pronounced in the russian manner, with the emphasis on the latter syllable) - a black dumbo standard coat with an irish marking
sheldon - an agouti dumbo rex

prince ivan seems to be the take-charge kind of guy, bold but a little nervous.  he checked out every bit of the cage before sheldon ventured around.  ivan frequently pins sheldon down during wrestling matches and shamelessly steals sheldon's treats; he also grooms himself all the time and cares for sheldon's fur tenderly.

sheldon is more laid-back, a wait-and-see-what-happens kind of guy, easy to snuggle and pet.  he gives great shudders and twitches of joy with a new treat like a grape or raspberry.  he prefers tucking himself into a soft blanket when at rest, which is quite often.

i won't kid you, the rattie boys are a great joy to me as i adjust to having the kids gone all day at school.  we enjoy each others' companionship.  diana is beyond-words excited to finally have her babies here at home; they comfort her with little snuffles and licks and nibbles.  ander is so taken with them that he wants to have one of his very own and he giggles when their whiskers tickle him.

diana has grand plans for training them.  i wonder what she'll come up with.  in any case, she's on a mission to share her love of rats with everyone she knows - and doesn't know, for that matter - and let the world know that these remarkable creatures should be treated with respect and compassion for what they truly are.