Teaching Music to a 4 Year Old

4yomusic-picWhen I was taking piano lessons last year, I asked my incredible teacher how she dealt with young children, and in what ways her methods differed with them compared to how she taught me.

She told me that until children are 6 years old, it’s best to work with them primarily on rhythm and percussion, rather than other instruments. Some kids certainly might have talent with the piano or violin at an early age, but often their hands haven’t developed enough to allow a proper reach, and most children needed to learn the foundation of rhythm first.

My son took a rhythm class that, unfortunately, stopped running after the quarter he attended. The couple running the music studio couldn’t afford to keep it open. When that happened, he stopped wanting to play music at home … until this fall.

He received a Koala Crate centered around music, and built his own instrument (a box marimba) with it, and even “wrote” some of his own music using colored stamps to indicate which wooden bar to strike. Then he started secretly singing the Alphabet Song when he was in the bathroom, or by himself in another room. I heard him once, and started singing along. It took a few weeks to coax him to sing it with me, but now that he’s got the tune (and the letters) down, he demands I sing it with him in English, and sing it in French for him, as well. Since the tune is the same for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and Bah-Bah Black Sheep, he can sing those, as well. Thanks, Mozart!

Though he’s always loved dancing to music, I can also engage him in singing music with me, but I don’t want to overwhelm him with my excitement. So, I’m giving him little teasers of what’s to come.

I recently showed him the “Doe a Deer/Do re mi” clip from The Sound of Music, and talked about how they used those single notes in different arrangements to make songs. He wasn’t too focused on it, until I pointed out that Steven Universe did the same thing with “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth.”

I’m re-introducing rhythm practices with percussion instruments, and dance & clap games and games, like follow the leader. I’m also going to play more classic musicals for him to watch with me, and help him learn some of the songs that interest him (both with singing and clapping/stomping to the rhythm).

I can tell he really enjoys singing, as well as the interactive aspects of singing together, even more so with sign language involved. (The “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is still his favorite song, and the first one he ever tried to sing.)

I’m hoping he’ll become even more enamored with music, so that by the time he’s six, he can choose an instrument to play. Music opens up the brain to a variety of complex subjects and makes comprehension in STEAM subjects stronger. But even if it didn’t, it’s just a lot of fun to play with sound, engage with music, and learn to compose music on one’s own.

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What We’re Doing: Playing Catch Up

Since August, our family has been hit with a series of unfortunate events the likes of which Lemony Snicket might have written (minus the deaths). Months ago, I had a broken tooth repaired, but it never felt right. In August, it developed an abscess so bad, I couldn’t function. I made meals, but almost everything else had to be pushed off to the rest of the family. It resulted in a trip to urgent care, the ER, a combination of antibiotics, and ten days of waiting in pain for a root canal. Since I have a bad reaction to lidocaine, I spent each post-visit to the dentist in acute pain so bad I couldn’t think or stop crying for hours. But finally, it was over.

Then came two rounds of viral illness through the family in September. Mid-October, while taking my daughter to campus, someone coming off the freeway ramp parallel to the road I was coming up, was too much in a hurry to see us to their left, and tried to do a u-turn … into my son’s door. Though shaken, and in pain, we walked away from the crash, and have been seeing a chiropractor regularly to help relieve pain and set things right. The car, however, is still at a collision center, while the insurance company decides what to do with it. We likely won’t be getting it back, though. My son’s door was completely crumpled. Down to one car, my partner temporarily rented a second, so I could use his, but then … he was laid off, along with a lot of other people. Thanks to the stress, I developed a different bacterial infection, and had my third round of antibiotics in a year.

Introducing Peach and Knight.

Now life is never as simple as being “all bad” or “all good.” During this time, we also had a number of blessings. Despite my tooth pain, I completed my third poetry collection Aranya in time. We adopted a pair of bunnies from a local farm (named Knight and Peach), and celebrated my birthday with beloved friends. My son’s back in his drama and gymnastics classes, my daughter’s doing really well at college this quarter, and my partner has had some time to work on developing his skills further for the next job AND spend a lot of quality time with our son.

We had a good Samhain and made the best of Thanksgiving/Native Day of Mourning despite having a sick kid (we didn’t see the friends we’d planned on seeing, but we’ll make up for it in the near future).

After nearly twenty years, the first book in a collaborative series I started with my daughter’s bio-dad was finally published. While we’ve had some delays in being able to make book trailers, the book, at least, is available for sale to the public … finally. It’s the fourth book I’ve published under my legal name this year (in addition to one under a pseudonym).

Of course, all of these extremes have interrupted our routines, and the structured aspects of our homeschooling have fallen to the wayside for a time. Now that I’m taking a break from all but marketing, I’m able to look at ways to play catch up. As it is, there’s a lot to catch up on: cleaning, re-organizing, re-purposing the family room, correspondences, bills, and of course, re-centering our son’s education so we can return our focus to his foundational development (he’s had his needs met, and played a lot with each of us, but we haven’t moved forward since August on some of his basic skills).

We’ll be keeping our holidays low-key this year, and our extended family is doing the same. It’s much needed.

Rather than break everything down into sections (because there’d be too much or too little to say), I’m just going to offer you some highlights of the things we’ve been reading/watching/eating:

  • My son really enjoyed reading Hey! That’s my monster! by Amanda Noll.
  • He did not find Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker, even though I thought it was a decent, somewhat humorous book about managing one’s anger or disappointment.
  • He does, however, love the original Magic School Bus episodes we procured for him, and will watch them whenever we’re between episodes of other shows (mostly: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, Eureka, and Star Trek: Deep Space 9). Too bad he didn’t show the same enthusiasm for Planet Earth or Reading Rainbow. But he loves Miss Frizzle so much, he’ll go on and on about what he learned from an episode, so win!
  • My daughter’s working on their own collaborative web comic with friends from college and online. One of them is even writing a soundtrack! I can’t wait to see what comes of it, as they give me little glimpses into their work. (Dragon prefers they/them pronouns.)
  • After decades of cooking, I finally made a decent turkey gravy from the drippings. It required stirring up the drippings while pouring them into the roux, and then adding broth. It tasted even better the next day when I added sherry to the roux (just as my stuffing tastes best with a white wine and broth reduction).
  • Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie thus far. We bought tickets for a 1pm showing on a Tuesday, and saw it as a family in giant, comfie seats. Even the Little Fox loved it, though a couple of parts we either covered his eyes (excessive violence), or he looked away of his own volition (something spooky, but I don’t want to spoil it).
  • Having caught up with Archer and Stranger Things, my partner and I have taken to watching Ted Talks together late at night. Since my last book of the year is complete, I’m taking a break through December. I’m only working on marketing, which frees up my evenings, which they haven’t been all year.

End of summer play with the princesses.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

butterfly-cover-largeWhen I was in seventh grade, we began WWII studies, and focused on the Holocaust. Part of our readings was the collection of poetry and art by the children of Terezin concentration camp, where over 150,000 people went in, but only 413 survived (of them, 10,000 children went in, less than 100 survived). The collection is called I Never Saw Another Butterfly, and is one of the readings I feel is integral to a Holocaust curriculum (along with Maus I & II, “The Shawl,” and other historical fiction). Because these are the real accounts of real children who lived and died there, it makes the reality of the Holocaust hit home all the more. Because it’s difficult to find, I purchased a copy when my daughter was learning about WWII.

A play was also written based on their poetry and art, which my middle school (St. Margaret’s Episcopal in San Juan Capistrano, CA) performed that same year. If you’re in the Seattle Eastside / Puget Sound area, and your children are ready to learn about the actions of German Nazis, pay a visit to Studio East Theater and see I Never Saw Another Butterfly in person. You can pair it with the book, as well as a discussion about the history. Depending on the age of your students, consider tying readings and play to documentary film clips of the release of prisoners at the concentration camps. Warning, if you haven’t seen them yourself, they can be emotionally jarring.

Studio East recommends only children 9 years or older attend this play due to its subject matter.

Performance Dates & Times: October 13 – 29, 2017 – Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm. Purchase tickets here.

Winning vs. Learning

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Yesterday, my daughter sketched a character in under two minutes, then tried to hide it when I complimented her. She said it was crap. It only took her two minutes.

We made eye contact. I asked, “Do you remember the first drawing you made that showed humans?”

“No,” she admitted, after thinking about it.

She gave me a blank page, so I could draw an approximation. At four or five years of age, she would draw something akin to a square with stick legs and stick arms. The eyes were always circles with dots in the middle and super long spider-leg lashes. People always had big smiles, and sometimes, she’d draw horizontal lines between the legs to show striped clothes.

She’d make little ones (her) next to big ones (me). I showed her my copy of her earliest work and said, “This is where you started,” then I had her open up back to her two minute “crap” sketch. “It may have only taken you two minutes to draw that, and it may not look as good as the pieces you spend an hour or two on, but it took you twelve years to be able to draw a ‘crap’ sketch that looks that good.”

I paused, and made sure she was really listening.

“Art is a journey. You’re always growing, changing, and improving. Your style now isn’t the style you had at four, and it’s not the style you had two years ago. Enjoy the journey, make art. This isn’t crap.”

My daughter’s still trying to unlearn the competitive lessons from elementary school. My son wants everything to be a competition with his sister; he wants to fight bad guys (and sometimes good guys) and win. I want them to learn to love the journey of discovery, development, and dedication.

What We’re Doing: Keeping Cool and Cooking

Today, my son asked, “Why does glass break?” It’s one of those questions young, inquiring minds provide on an hourly basis. Since I was sitting at the computer, I looked it up, because my own understanding was inadequate. I mean, I had an idea, albeit half-informed, but I wanted to know, too. The first link provided enough information I could paraphrase and answer, including that over 50 glass science experts can’t agree on the answer. But it seems to come down to:

  1. glass has a crystalline structure
  2. glass is brittle
  3. stress causes brittle things to crack, shatter, or explode

When asked a “why” question, my go to answer is usually “Gravity,” but sometimes the best answer is, “Let’s find out.”

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

This is the first year my partner has suggested we get air conditioning. If you’re not in the PNW, you might not be aware, but most homes don’t have A/C here, though many businesses do. It typically doesn’t got hot enough for long enough to justify the cost. Or at least, that used to be true. Over the last two decades, the summers (and autumns, winters, and springs) have been erratic and warmer. We spent months in rain with barely a moment of sun, which despite stereotypes about the Seattle area, really weren’t the norm.

To beat the heat, we’ve been seeking out more cool outdoor spaces. Our local playground turns into a pizza oven in the sun due to the poor choice in spongy turf beneath the play equipment. Since we couldn’t make the long drive to the ocean, we hit Lake Sammamish, specifically at the lesser known Idylwood Beach Park, just a short distance past the immensely popular Marymoor Park. While we didn’t go swimming (the only swimming areas were in direct sun where there’s a lifeguard), we enjoyed wading into the edge of the lake in the shade of tall trees.

The Little Fox dug in the wet sand, and I walked in the water with ducks swimming by. A bald eagle swooped past us and said hello as it returned to a perch in a cedar pine. A small rivulet from the local creek fed cold, crisp water into the mild lake. The only downside? Climbing the hill in high sun to a hot car.

Since our street is being worked on this week, I’m looking for ways to keep cool in our home and on our porches. At least we have the forest shade! One trick we’ll be trying tomorrow (the hottest day of the week) is inspired by Happy Hooligan’s Dino Dig, although we don’t have plastic dinosaurs. Instead, I’ll put in plastic frogs and shells and dried vegetation we’ve collected, and link it to the Avatar: the Last Air Bender episode where Aang must retrieve frozen frogs from a lake.

For my daughter’s birthday, we couldn’t afford to buy her much this year (she’s taking extra classes at college in the fall), so I wrote a roleplaying game called Amnesia basing it loosely on the White Wolf system. It’s about a team of superheroes and spies (twelve characters) who awake without memory of who they are, and over the course of the evening, they solved clues to find out more about their identities.

We didn’t finish the story arc the first night, though we did polish off all the homemade taquitos, char siu, and shiitake noodles. Now we’re trying to find a good time within everyone’s summer schedules to finish the game, which the Dragon says she really wants to play again. The best part were all of the surprise dice rolls that led to unexpected moments in the game. That’s the best part of an RPG: all the little moments the GM didn’t plan.

According to tradition, August 1st was Lughnasadh/Lammas (the start of the harvest and celebration of the god Lugh), but according to astronomy and the shift of the planet over centuries, it’s actually the 7th. Thus, I’ve set the whole first week of August to be Lughnasadh in our home, and we’re playing with gluten free bread recipes. Our first attempt yesterday to make peasant bread (including braiding a loaf, and making small rolls) didn’t work out because I made my own experimental bread flour and used WAAAAAAAAY too much tapioca flour. (My blend was 2c. brown rice flour, 1c. sweet rice flour, and 1c. tapioca.) The dough wouldn’t hold shape, so I made tiny rolls for our meatball soup.

Our next experiment will be with cinnamon rolls tonight, and I’m going to significantly reduce the tapioca and replace it with oat flour. Potato flour is excellent for making gluten free breads spongy and moist, but potatoes cause inflammation in my joints, so I avoid it most days, especially in my own kitchen. Also on our agenda: making a gluten free copycat of Great Harvest’s dark chocolate cherry bread, but I haven’t found a decent recipe yet, although I think it will likely involve a whole grain bread recipe with added cinnamon, honey, chocolate chunks, and cherries. I’m also craving peaches, so we might hit the farmer’s market and make peach scones or muffins!

While our rolls weren’t the best, we still left out the largest one on a plate with raw honey and a dab of butter for the fairies.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

61tzp5zex-l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Serendipity comes in small ways in our home. In June, both of my kids were talking about turnips, and my daughter specifically wanted me to make “pork and turnips” without offering a recipe. So, I dug around and found some ideas online, and ended up coming up with a simple ground pork and white turnip recipe with sweet Thai chili paste (mild), mixing in the turnip greens, and serving it with rice. Only, I didn’t make it alone. It was Little Fox’s first time cooking a meal with me. He’s stirred the pasta once or twice, and helped with baking, but he did a lot more work this time. That night, when it was story time, he chose me to read a book, so I picked out one we randomly selected at the library: Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore.

Cora is the youngest child in a large family, but because of her age, she doesn’t get to help in big ways in the kitchen like her older siblings. Not until one day, when everyone else is gone, and her mother gives her an apron and asks what she’d like to make. She chooses pancit, a traditional Filipino noodle dish with vegetables and meat similar to, but not the same as, chow mein or yakisoba. The Little Fox adored reading about another child near his age cooking with her mother on the same evening he’d help cook his first meal with me, and so did I.

Recently, he’s also taken to rereading The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann. I’ve written about it before, but he’s not only enjoying the book, he can recall all the meanings of each Chinese character, despite not knowing the sounds each symbol makes.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

tutugrouptvtropesWe’re nearly finished rewatching one of our favorite anime short series, Princess Tutu. It combines fairy tales, classic ballet, and beautiful music, weaving it into an odd, beautiful, and melancholy story of its own. The show centers around Duck, a duck who is given a magical amulet by a (not quite) dead storyteller that allows her to turn into a girl named Duck. Her goal: to dance with the sad prince, Mytho and return the shards of his heart to him by becoming Princess Tutu. It’s completely unexpected, even if you’re familiar with the ballets, fairy tales, or Japanese tropes rife throughout. The show is a single season of 22 minute episodes, and one we loved the moment we watched it for the first time.

My partner has been exploring our Amazon Prime membership looking for new shows on Prime Video. Though our son still loves Doctor McWheelie, Masha and the Bear, and others, his favorite new show is DinosaurTrain, which is a PBS production. Since we don’t have TV, it’s nice to have access to programming like this online. He’s also quite into superheroes these days, despite only having limited exposure to superhero shoes. We decided to take him to see the new Spider-Man film, and we all loved it. It was amazing, engaging, real, and provided numerous laughs. After several disappointing Marvel films, this one redeemed many of the other recent ones.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Besides the gluten-free breads listed above (check “What We’re Doing”), the foods I made for our super secret game night turned out amazingly well. Even the one I hadn’t intended. I wanted to make gluten free, vegan dumplings, but I ran out of time, so rather than let the ingredients go to waste (I’d already prepared the filling), I went ahead and turned it into a noodle dish instead. What did I do?

Chopped up a third of a pound of shiitake mushrooms into thick strips, and sauteed them in olive oil. Setting these aside, I sauteed chopped cabbage with sliced green onions until tender. Then I grated fresh ginger* using a microplane directly over the pan, and toss in crushed garlic to cook for two additional minutes, stirring often. A splash of rice wine vinegar and gluten free tamari, set the pan sizzling, and I returned the mushrooms to the heat to mix in with the sauce. After a minute of heating, I set the pan aside to cook the brown rice and millet ramen (I use Lotus Foods brand, as they cook well and I can buy them in bulk at Costco).

Once the noodles were cooked, I added them to the veggies, added a touch more vinegar and tamari, and ground some black pepper, tossing everything together before serving with a drizzle of sesame oil. Sesame seeds were in a dish on the side for anyone who wanted to add them to the noodles and/or the char siu and hot mustard.

 

*If you don’t use ginger root often, buy a small amount, and keep it in the freezer. It preserves it a long time for those dishes that require it, and it’s actually easier to grate.

 

 

What We’re Doing: Spring Summary

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

What did we do this spring? Better to ask what we didn’t do. We didn’t fight elephant poachers in Africa. We didn’t storm a dictator’s compound and instate a new leader. We didn’t even leave our state. But we have been so engaged with our projects and new routine that when I finally could take a break and breathe, I noticed the pile of dishes unwashed, the laundry mountains waiting to be climbed, and the toy wastelands our living room had become.

Over the last few months, I’ve published two books (Perdition and Cress and the Medicine Show), finished the draft of another novel, and survived my first time as a panelist (while sick with a cold, no less) at Norwescon. The Reading Selections Year One class concluded with a small pizza celebration and the insistence from my students we continue on to Year Two in September.

Dragon’s spring quarter has gone MUCH better than her first quarter, and with an advisor’s advice, she’ll be making up one of her previous quarter’s classes in an eight day session in fall. Little Fox has been enjoying his new drama class, continuing gymnastics, and attending a Montessori preschool two mornings a week.

Having my son off at a preschool for a set block of time has given him more structure, a chance to play consistently with other kids (play dates sometimes fall through), and gives us both a break from each other. With him out of the house, I’ve been able to focus on getting more writing done and having some breathing room to just … be.

And since the preschool is within easy walking distance, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I can drive due to car or health issues, the latter of which have been a great obstacle for consistent class and event attendance.

For his birthday, my son received more Legos, which are his constant of late, but he also received a subscription to Koala Crate. Two boxes arrived so far, reptiles and rainbows, and we’ve worked on them together during times when he doesn’t want to engage in other activities besides Legos (lately he doesn’t want story time, music time, art projects, puppets, gardening, or cooking. Only Legos. Batman Legos. All. The. Time.). He will happily do a Koala Crate craft if I suggest it. Yay, STEAM!

Since we were all sick for his birthday, and the weather was crummy the weekend after, it took us a couple of weeks to celebrate properly. We took him to Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah, where we pet bunnies and piglets and kittens, fed parrots, and Little Fox rode a pony for the first time and played on a go cart. When he was worn out, he let us know, and we all went to a dim sum house that actually had gluten free dim sum options.

On Memorial Day weekend, my son and I took a bus and the monorail to Seattle Center for the Folklife Festival. It was his first time, and he was most excited for all the food trucks. We saw Recess Monkey, ate lots of food, ran into some of our cousins, listened to other music, looked at art, and spent an hour in the Rhythm Tent making experimental music with a few dozen other people. When we left for the monorail to return home, he told me how much fun he had.

Here’s hoping he enjoys the Fremont Solstice Parade as much!

WHAT WE’RE READING

41lt0sceyel-_sx325_bo1204203200_Since my daughter has been in college, she’s not reading much beyond fanfic and textbooks, but I’ve been enjoying Graft by Matt Hill, an author I shared a table with at Norwescon, and have been marking up my new copy of Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsythe, which teaches the figures of rhetoric once taught with the classics, but have fallen out of favor in the last century of education. I have a feeling it’ll help me teach creative writing in the fall. The best part about the book? It’s written with wry humor and in a manner that keeps the information engaging, unlike the similarly titled Elements of Style, which is all about the technical aspects of writing.

61sewlxqlql-_sx258_bo1204203200_Little Fox turned into Hei Hei the rooster after watching Disney’s Moana, and that night, we offered him a book about chickens (it was a random selection at the library; sweet synchronicity!) called Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl.

The painted story tells of a young girl named Sonya who cares deeply for her three chickens, which she raised by hand as chicks. One night, a fox steals into the coop and takes one away. Her father guides her through her grief and offers a different perspective. The story offers readers a hopeful note toward the end. In one week, we’ve read the book four times to him!

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Well, as a night and morning of chicken screams and Duplo world building will attest, we watched Moana. I’d held off seeing it because of the problematic treatment of Maui and the mixed reception by the people depicted. I decided after hearing more feedback and reading an article about watching it with awareness to the cultural inaccuracies, there was a lot to enjoy in it.

My partner and I have caught up with The Americans, Better Call Saul, and American Gods. Three of us recently completed both seasons of Agent Carter and are livid the show was cancelled. Watching Carter, Americans, and national news concurrently certainly painted a complex picture of the U.S. relations with Russia from post-WWII tensions, to the Cold War, and into the present political atmosphere, which brought up a lot of discussions with our daughter about the history between the two nations and how it’s led us to where we are now. The trio of media create a chilling awareness of our current political landscape, even where the fiction was sensationalized.

Dragon introduced us to Nightvale, a podcast about a fictional town where nothing is within the realm of normal. While I’ve enjoyed it, Little Fox finds it dull and never wants to listen to it, so we’ve started rewatching Avatar: the Last Airbender episodes.

We did see Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (without the Fox), and Wonder Woman in the theater and loved all three.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

After seeing Wonder Woman, we enjoyed nearly a week of modern and ancient Greek recipes for our dinners, and in the process, I learned how to make halibut in a way that leaves the meat tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

Greek Halibut in Parchment

4-6 oz. steak of halibut per person
artichoke hearts in oil
lemon slices
garlic cloves
sea salt
black pepper
oregano

Preheat oven to 400°F. For each person, place two slices of lemon on a sheet of baking parchment, and cover with one halibut steak, skin side down. Arrange a handful of artichoke hearts on either side of the halibut, and sprinkle the fish with lemon juice, sea salt, and oregano. Then crush one to two cloves of garlic and rub lightly along the top of the fish. Fold parchment into a packet around the halibut and placing on a baking sheet. When all packets are arranged on the sheet, place in the oven and cook 12 – 14 minutes. Grind black pepper over the top of the fish to taste and serve with sides, such as peas with mint, hummus and cucumber slices, roasted golden beets with goat or sheep’s cheese.

What We’re Doing: Frantic February

What am I doing posting about February in March?  Because it really was that frantic.

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

bookcover-totebagMost of February involved getting revisions finished on my debut novel, Perdition, and trying to get the family out again for field trips and events.  The book is complete and I’m awaiting a proof to go ahead with publication, which should happen next week.  February also saw the publication of Cress and the Medicine Show, a novelette about a runaway slave whose path crosses that of a medicine show run by three trickster gods.  (Appropriate for anyone old enough to handle discussions of antebellum slavery.  Includes a coloring page.)

IMG_4550We took advantage of Free First Thursdays at local museums. Although, technically, the Bellevue Arts Museum has free first Fridays instead, we explored the Metamorphosis exhibit, Divine Ammunition sculptures, and Electric Coffin. Daughter was too disturbed by Divine Ammunition, and I discussed with her the reasons for her discomfiture and how art is meant to move you to a strong emotional response.  We all adored several installations from diverse artists in the Metamorphosis collection.  Little Fox preferred the hands-on art rooms set aside for kids and creative play more than most of the exhibits, but he responded well to textured art, such as a collage involving shells and photographs.

Pacific Science Center held a weekend engineering event with numerous hands on projects for kids of all ages to participate in.  As a family, we built a bridge, assembled a slide marble park, created circuits, harnessed the energy of the sun, and much more.   For more information about what was presented and what groups participated, there’s still a page up at the PacSci site for Engineer It!

img_4563.jpgThe weather forced us inside more than I would prefer, but we still made a snow woman, planned play dates, and saw a local concert with S.J. Tucker and Betsy Tinney.  While our educational adventures waned through the month, my daughter went through a math review, practiced essay writing, and started learning about the McCarthy era in anticipation of returning to college through Running Start.  She’s also been more socially adventurous; she went to a sleep over, attended a swing dance with her friend, and has a new beau.

Though we haven’t kept to the 52 week curriculum plan, Little Fox made his way through the Spring curriculum box from the library.  We’ve discovered he tends to enjoy a slower pace of exploring each topic across two or three weeks instead of one per week.

WHAT WE’RE READING

In addition to the books in the Spring curriculum box, Little Fox enjoyed The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin A. Ramsey (an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights era and MLK, Jr.), Peddles by Elisabeth Rose Stanton, and five of the books in the Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Our library also has a new tradition of providing “blind dates” with books during February.  They place books in paper bags with little hearts and tag them with phrases to indicate reading level.  Though I didn’t care for my fiction selection (completely the wrong genre for me), my son adored his blind date with Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski.  It’s a gentle story about a generous boy who gives up his toys for a cat shelter’s auction, and the illustrations are dreamlike and intricate in detail.

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The Dragon completed the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories she was working through, and explored the story of a criminologist in The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Pat Brown.  She’s now researching McCarthyism in Nightmare in Red by Richard M. Fried and No Ivory Tower by Ellen Schrecker.  My daughter also checked out a “blind date” book and received a copy of Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston.  She hasn’t finished it yet, but the book’s description on the inside flap promised more adventure and excitement than most of the non-fiction she’s working through.

Since I’ve been editing for weeks, I haven’t been reading much, but I still have made time for comics.  I’ve started the Delilah Dirk steampunk series and find it engaging, intelligent, and funny.  I’m also keeping up with the charming web comic (among many others), Miss Abbott and the Doctor by Maripaz Villar, which focuses on two people in a small, Victorian town: a rather straight-laced doctor and a young woman who grew up among indigenous people in a rain forest before being brought to “civilized” society.  It’s both adorable and cheeky.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’ve not been watching many new shows as a whole family, but my partner and I, and sometimes my daughter, are catching up with Gotham, Agent Carter, and now The Americans.  If you’re not familiar with that last title, it focuses on a married couple of Russian spies living long term as a couple from Illinois at the beginning of the Reagan era.  The whole show is well-written and acted, and it’s in stark juxtaposition to the current U.S. political climate.  Highly recommended for people who enjoy period dramas, intrigue, and dark humor.

As a family, we’re still watching EurekaStar vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, and The Powerpuff Girls.  Little Fox has turned his IronMan, Captain America, and Star Lord figures into Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles respectively.  My partner has attempted to introduce Planet Earth series to our family, but the kids are difficult to engage these last few weeks.  We’ll keep trying, though.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

At the start of February, I began an elimination diet suggested by my doctor.  It’s rather strict, eliminating corn, soy, nightshades, and sugar.  For someone addicted to hot sauces, tomatoes, paprika, tacos, and sushi, it hasn’t been easy keeping my taste buds interested.  I’ve adapted my usual recipes and attempted a few others.  I’m using a lot of ginger, horseradish, mustard powder, lemon sauces, and fish sauce.  It’s led to making foods I love that I’d never learned to make, too, such as my own worcestershire sauce, Swedish meatballs, and lamb souvlaki. Daughter, though, suggested I share my recipe for Lamb Stroganoff.

Gluten-Free Lamb Stroganoff

1/3 boneless leg of lamb, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
12 oz. package of gluten-free pasta (e.g. fusilli, casarecce, etc.)
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or diced
1/2 c. diced mushrooms (e.g. portobello, cremini, etc.)
3/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. broth
4 T. worcestershire sauce*
1 T. rice flour
butter or olive oil
sea salt, pepper to taste
splash of sherry (optional)

Cook pasta al dente according to package, rinse briefly, and set aside.

Caramelize onions in butter (or olive oil) on medium heat.  For proper caramelizing, add small splashes of water to pan as onions start to brown.  Continue doing this until onions are soft and have reached a medium brown color and are sweet to taste.  Add a little more butter or oil, and saute mushrooms.  Avoid crowding, otherwise the mushrooms won’t brown.  Remove mushrooms and onions from heat, and in the same skillet, brown lamb with pressed garlic, salt, and pepper.  Cook about four minutes, and turn pieces, douse with worcestershire sauce, and continue cooking another four minutes.  Remove lamb from skillet, leaving juices behind.

Sprinkle flour into pan, mixing it in with the drippings from the lamb and onions.  Add a small splash of sherry, stir well, and then pour in broth.  Bring heat to medium high until it bubbles, reduce to low, and add sour cream.  Stir thoroughly, and fold in pasta, lamb, mushrooms, and onions. Season to taste.  Serve with a green salad with light dressing (we like olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a sprinkling of crumbled feta).

*Gluten-Free and Soy-Free Worcestershire Sauce

Equal parts (about 2-3T. each):

Fish sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Black strap molasses

Approximately 1t. each of:

Mustard powder
Fresh grated or dry ground ginger
Garlic powder or minced garlic

Mix wet ingredients first, then fold in dry ingredients.  Use within three to four days.