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.

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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.

Counting and the Alphabet

16195557_10154270436273059_8844578467252457715_nLately, the Little Fox loves counting.  We’re counting the lamps in the bedroom, we’re counting our fingers and toes, we’re counting bites during a snack, or seconds while I hold my PT and yoga poses.  We’re counting anything and everything holding my son’s interest.

It’s not the first time he’s been interested in numbers, but it’s a resurgence with an intensity he never showed before.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, he started becoming interested again with the books One Nighttime Sea and Wizard of Oz Counting.

61tkzjdun2bl-_sx365_bo1204203200_One of his favorite things to count — his absolute favorite — is counting letters.  He especially likes seeking out the letters in his name (he learned to spell his name courtesy of a cousin who sent a wooden bench carved with his name in it).  He’s always looking for the As and the Cs.  Sunday night, I read the whole Animalia to him, slowly enunciating all the words.  We didn’t just count the obvious letters, but also those hidden within the art on each page.  Sometimes we went far beyond his knowledge of counting, but he did his best to repeat the numbers I said.  Some pages went up to 23 instances of the letter in question.

This combined interest in both numbers and letters has become an exciting way of integrating the basics.  Though we’d never push him to start reading or doing math so early, we absolutely support him when he shows such passion for something.  Since he’s so focused, I’ve even started introducing the concepts of addition.  When we’re counting letters or animals or some other items in a book, and the items in questions are split between the folds, I count the whole, and then count those on either side of the page and add them together.

For example, seven lemurs are spread across two pages.  We count them as seven together, and then I count four on one page, three on the other, and say, “and four and three makes seven!”

I don’t expect him to repeat this, but by simply talking about it, the concept starts to sink into his mind, so when he starts to focus on adding and subtracting objects in his world, these lessons will have laid a preliminary foundation.

Random ideas for things to count:

  • Legos, ponies, cars, figurines, or other toys they’re actively playing with
  • Sticks, leaves, rocks, shells, or other common objects found on a nature walk
  • Seconds (while doing something)
  • Peas, chips, grapes, or other food that comes in multiples
  • People or animals in an area
  • Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, bones, etc.
  • Shirts, pants, socks, or other laundry items while folding (socks are especially good for counting if they’re learning to fold their socks)
  • Dabs of paint, crayons, or other items with varied colors (also integrates color lessons)
  • Wooden beads, buttons, yarn pieces, and other craft items they’re using in projects
  • The tires on different vehicles (e.g. bicycles, tricycles, car, semitruck, etc.)
  • The limbs on varying animals (counting legs: zero limbs on snakes, bipedal humans, quadrapedal animals, six-legged insects, eight-legged spiders and octopuses; wings or arms vs. legs; etc.)

Another part to teaching and learning counting is the concept of zero, nothing, and none.  This is crucial to all levels of mathematics, although the basic vague understanding of it comes along often in a young child’s life when they’re told they cannot have something, or when they insist they want to eat nothing when they’re cranky with hunger.  Nevertheless, as important as zero is, we often don’t remember it in counting, which is why discussions about limbs, for instance, can introduce zero as a number meaning none.

Whenever your little one starts taking an interest in numbers or letters, it’s time to start playing number and alphabet games, and singing songs (e.g. Hickory, Dickory Dock, 10 little monkeys, the alphabet song, and so on.)  Another great resource are “Alligators All Around” and “One Was Johnny” by Maurice Sendak and sent to music by Carole King (these are two books found in Sendak’s Nutshell library).  And if you’re counting months, don’t forget “Chicken Soup with Rice.”  If your little ones are Seuss fans, there’s also Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book; it’s not my favorite, but my son adores it.

 

 

 

What We’re Doing: Justice January

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Our year began with a few surprises.  One of them dramatically shifted our plans for the year, as some mistakes came to light — small mistakes hidden from my partner and I until they compounded into something big.  My daughter has withdrawn from Running Start for now.  Though she kept up with the academics and showed full comprehension of the subjects she studied on graded papers and tests, her social anxiety led to a series of events that reflected poorly on her GPA.

For now, we’ve returned to homeschooling, and are seeking a counselor to help give her tools to deal with her anxiety better.  While her choices sadden me, it’s a valuable learning experience for us both.  While it set an unexpected tone for the new year, it’s not all we’ve been up to.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

logo31We bought a new subscription to the Pacific Science Center and went there for the final weekend of their Sherlock Holmes traveling exhibit, complete with historical documents and artifacts, film and TV props, and a mystery to solve as a family.  My partner and I attended the Seattle Symphony‘s tribute to David Bowie on the 10th, and this past weekend, we saw Curious George and the Golden Meatball at Second Story Repertory Theater.

The Little Fox can now count to ten consistently, and engages us in counting whenever he finds something interesting enough to count.  Much like the Count from Sesame Street, he’ll stop whatever we’re doing and have us count something.  Most recently, it was the number of lamps in my room: three, and the number of fingers on his hands: ten.  The Dragon wishes to one day work for the FBI as a forensic psychologist, so we’ve been checking out books related to her long-term goals, including Criminology, Psychology, and U.S. History.  We’re also working on essay writing and pre-Calculus, as she’s considering doing AP testing as a way to earn some of her college credits.  With the SATs coming up, we’re also considering my father’s advice to take the PSATs first.

 

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Upward Facing Dog

I’ve taken on the Yoga Green Book‘s 21 Days of Yoga Challenge by Carla Christine, and have working harder on improving my strength and flexibility.  Her instructions have been detailed and easy to follow, improving even the basics I already practice (I recommend her for future classes; also, check out my friend Starbird, who teaches one how to flow through yoga). As someone with an autoimmune issue and chronic pain, sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective on the hardest days, so I’m also working on tracking my overall daily outlook using the idea of a Year in Pixels, and a Jar of Happiness. I’ve also been working hard on my writing.  Cress and the Medicine Show, a myth-based novelette, will be available mid-February, and my debut novel, Perdition, publishes in March.  Also, there’s a new class I’m putting together to teach Creative Writing to middle schoolers.

On the whole, we’re finding a new routine all over again, and I’m hoping to incorporate some of these wonderful ideas about gameschooling from SimpleHomeschool.net.  We’ll also be greeting the protesters from the Women’s March on Saturday, and we have some wonderful books checked out from the library to celebrate the memory and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all week long.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

0-439-33906-5At the time of writing, I have 45 books checked out from the library and 2 curriculum boxes.  Among them, the collection of Nurse Mathilda stories. Since beginning in December, we’ve completed the first book and are in the middle of the second.  If you’re not familiar, these are the three odd little books, which inspired the Nanny McPhee movies, and all center around a family so large, they don’t know how many children they have.  My son enjoys them, but wants to take breaks every second or third night, so we’re doing a few chapters each week.

My son’s favorite counting books right now are One Nighttime Sea (library copy) and The Wizard of Oz Counting (bought at Costco with the shapes book).  When I checked out One Nighttime Sea, it was for his nocturnal animals unit, but it’s become such a beloved book, we keep renewing it.  It not only counts different sea creatures from one to ten, it then counts even more from ten to one.  We take time to touch each animal and say its number as we go and I ask him where the number itself is on the page.  The Wizard of Oz Counting book is far more simplistic and quite jolly, and we’ve had it since he was a year old.
Along with some criminology books, my daughter is working her way through FBI 100 Years and The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  There are other books awaiting her, but I don’t want to bog her down.

 

On top of books, we have magazine subscriptions coming in.  We allowed our Ladybug and Click subscriptions to lapse.  I was disappthumbointed when they arrived, as I was expecting the better binding of Babybug, which keep well on shelves as sturdy little books.  Standard sized magazines don’t hold up as well, and the content didn’t inspire as much interest in my son.

While at the library, we found out they have all of the Cricket Media publications available, so we can read them there when we wish each month.  However, I also fell in love with Cricket itself, especially the hilarious stories in the January issue, so I’ve ordered a subscription for it, despite its recommended age range.  Also, we’re receiving Zootles, a fun science magazine for kids given to us as a gift by our cousins.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Recently, my daughter took my banana bread recipe and made a few dozen mini muffins for us in the toaster oven (because our oven still isn’t fixed; we’ve had a lot of trouble ordering the element we need for baking).

img_4394Mama Raven’s Banana Bread

1/2 c. butter (salted, because yum)
3/4 c. raw sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 aged bananas (mashed)
1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1/4 c. oat flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
7 oz. of crushed or chopped pineapple
1 T. pineapple juice
1 T. soured milk (milk with a few drops of lemon juice; wait 20 minutes to sour) or buttermilk
1/2 c. crushed walnut pieces (not option in my house, but maybe in yours)

Mix dry ingredients and set aside.  Mash bananas and stir in eggs and vanilla.  Blend well and add pineapple juice and buttermilk.  Fold wet ingredients into dry, and add pineapple (the pineapple helps keep the bread moist) and walnuts. Put in a greased bread pan and bake 45 minutes in a 350°F oven (or about 15 minutes in a mini muffin pan).

Alternatives: for dairy free recipes, substitute coconut milk for the buttermilk, and Earth Balance sticks for the butter.  If you wish to add chocolate chips, ditch the pineapple and substitute about 1/4 c. of milk or coconut milk instead.

Enjoy warm and buttered or cold and dunked in chocolate milk.  So good!