What We’re Doing: Edge of Seventeen

[NOTE: I wrote this on June 13th … and then forgot to finish and post.
Please donate to RAICES of Texas and the ACLU to help asylum seekers and their children who’ve been separated by the U.S. government.]

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

IMG_7254Dragon will soon be 18. Everything we planned together has not come to pass, and as parent and child, we’re at a crossroads. There are many decisions they’ll need to make in the coming days, including how to complete or continue their education. College through Running Start didn’t serve them in the end. Though the academics were well within their capacity to understand, they faced major challenges with depression and social anxiety that are now being addressed with their doctor. Priorities have shifted for all of us, and with legal adulthood on the horizon, Dragon is caught between frozen fear and possibility. I’m proud to say, they had their first job interview for a position well-suited to them, and awaits word with impatient excitement. The interviewer told them, “I hope you feel good about how the interview went.”

35531981_10155620461543059_7789139301165432832_nLittle Fox Five is ready to take on more challenges these days. He’s interested in adding dance classes after seeing a performance of the Alvin Ailey Dance tour, and is especially interested in tap after his first trial class. He still adores drama and gymnastics, but the former isn’t available in the summer, and in a year, the latter will require him to be segregated by sex. His father and I have agreed he needs a martial art, as well, and are wavering between Aikido and Shaolin Kung Fu. Dragon learned the one, my partner learned a variety of styles related to the other. This means, by autumn, Little Fox will have four or five classes a week to take, and I’ll be teaching at least two classes of my own each month.

35815038_10155620461523059_8073277054520393728_nWhy so many classes for one child? For one, he gets restless, and needs to move his body more than I can accommodate with my health and mobility issues. For another, I need time to work during the dayand hiring a nanny is outside our budget. At his age, finding consistent care for a few hours a week in our area isn’t feasible, as schools want full-time enrollment and nannies want more hours of work. Without outside care available, I either take him to classes and work on my laptop while he learns, or I stay up until 2 or 3am every night, which is, quite frankly, not working well for me at present.

What I have managed to get done these past few months: hired two video editors to create book trailers for The Grasp of Time, both the live action ad I filmed in January, and a text-based teaser; written a handful of short stories and poems for my Patreon; completed a revision of Seal Breaker (the sequel to TGoT), ready to be sent to my editor; make progress on re-organizing and decluttering the house. I’ve had some delays due to health, including a miscarriage that threw us all for a loop, but I’m making steady progress.

My partner has started to hit his stride at his new position, and considering returning to martial arts. When we met, he was, among other occupations, an assistant Wushu and Tai Chi instructor. Since he shares his birthday with the Dragon, there’s planning in the works for him as well, though this year, they’re far more subdued than those we have for the soon-to-be-adult.

And yes, they’re registering to vote!

WHAT WE’RE READING

9781681689173Besides reading a chapter a night from Space Opera by Catherynne Valente to my son each night (not intended for kids; read it anyway). When we’ve finished Space Opera, I want to start up with The Neverending Story.

Over the last year plus, his father has handled the majority of bedtime stories, so I either have to read them again with him during the daytime, or sneak them and look through them to know what they’re up to. Little Fox is enamoured of the science and math books his dad has been selecting, especially those with ghosts as the narrators. He’s also quite insistent about reading and re-reading Squirrel Girl and My Little Pony comics, some of which we’ve had to start checking out from the library, because our budget can’t keep up with demand.

In May, Little Fox read almost all of Green Eggs and Ham with little assistance from me. It took over half an hour because of the many feline and bathroom distractions one experiences at five, but he read the book. I recorded most of the audio on my phone for my partner.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Dance videos and more dance videos. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Recently introduced the Little Fox to The Secret of Nimh. Though normally I encourage my kids to read the books prior to watching the films, I have to admit, I find Tolkien’s writing style dull and prone to numerous, distracting genealogical tangents. As for Nimh, I was the impatient one; I spontaneously decided it had been far too long since I’d seen the movie, and so we were going to see it. He can read it later.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Little Fox recently made his first banana bread the same night Dragon followed the careful steps to making some scrumptious Ma Po Tofu. Both turned out beautifully. The ma po tofu was served with my fried rice, pea vine, and asparagus. The banana bread was still hot when we cut it up and served our portions with ice cream (Mukilteo Mudd by our local Snoqualmie Valley ice cream).

Here’s my Grammy’s banana bread recipe (with my modifications):caelansfirstbananabread

1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar (it used to be 1c.)
3 eggs, beaten
3 bananas, mashed
2 c. of all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. of cold water
1 t. vanilla extract
walnuts and chocolate chips optional

Cream the butter and sugar together. Mash bananas and stir in beaten eggs. Add banana/egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, stir dry ingredients together, then add to wet. Stir in water, then add any extras (e.g. nuts, chocolate, etc.). Pour batter into a greased bread pan or baking dish.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 45 – 60 minutes. Less time for muffins or smaller containers.

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Color Theory

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Color Diagram by Charles Hayter

For the last couple of weeks, color theory has dominated discussions between the children and myself. Little Fox is working with crayons more, where only months ago he found no pleasure in coloring or drawing. Now he can’t wait to ask about the colors to use for various projects or pictures.

Meanwhile, Dragon spends hours on their art every day, starting with a sketch, then digital line art, color, and shading. Their art is becoming ever-more detailed, rich, and vivid. They’ve been learning tricks and developing skills from tutorials online, and they recently participated in the first two weeks of #MerMay on Twitter.

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“Adorabilis” by Anya Starling

Several times a day now, I’m asked what colors to choose. Whether for my son’s coloring projects, or my teen’s color palettes for their art, it seemed such a big enough deal that I started a Pinterest board dedicated to color palettes and color theory.

When Little Fox recently worked on his wheel of months and seasons, and his wheel of the week, we talked about how colors make us feel, what colors we see or experience during different times of the day, or even the year. Some of his choices were based on what I said about a particular time of the year, but others were entirely his own.

One of Dragon’s online challenges a few months ago was to use a limited palette on a piece–usually three to six–found on a Twitter thread about coloring comics for major labels. There’s a wealth of wisdom about coloring pieces with a limited palette, planned ahead of time, and it challenges artists to make choices in how they use their colors. 0ccba752dd473aea637985174849e3a9Using this concept, I challenged Little Fox to use only five colors on a coloring page, and he loved it. He hadn’t been too keen on coloring before, but being challenged excited him. Now, he doesn’t mind using the whole box of crayons if he so decides, but occasionally, I hand him a range of colors, and he goes to town using the selection.

If you want to give the same challenge to your kids (or for yourself), you can read up a bit on color theory, and either let them choose, or choose a few for them. Consider a range of five complementary colors, see how much they can do with only three, or ask them to make it monochromatic, using shades of all the same color.

Tracking Time

wheelofyear2018Two weeks ago, I hand-drew a pagan wheel of the year. It included four seasons, eight sabbats, and the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar. I labeled everything in ink, and gave it to my son to color in as he saw fit. It took over two hours to work on, because he had a number of questions about each season, sabbat, and month, which allowed us to really delve into how we track an annual cycle.

He was especially concerned that the colors be accurate, and being unsure of much of it, turned my questions about how he felt during certain seasons or holidays around, asking me what colors they conjured for me. Some of my answers affected the colors he chose, but others were entirely of his own choosing–especially December. When I mentioned that Yule, the longest night, was in December, instead of coloring it pine green or holly berry red, he chose black for the darkness of a long winter’s night.

WheelofDays.jpgThe project was so successful, he wanted to “turn” the wheel every day, and was frustrated that he’d have to wait for May to end before turning it to June. So, I found a circle divided into sevenths, printed it out, and labeled it. Gods help me, I momentarily forgot how to spell “Wednesday” and had to print out a second copy to correct it, but once labeled, he set about coloring it with the same seriousness he had the annual wheel.

It took almost as long, because our discussion turned toward the history of the names. Now he only refers to Thursday as “Thor’s Day,” but he refuses to call Friday “Frigga’s Day,” because he thinks it should be “Fries Day” (hence the red ketchup and yellow mustard colors on the wheel). Between discussing mythology (Norse, Greek, and Roman), how days “feel,” and the importance of getting it “right,” he spent over an hour on it.

Now he looks forward to announcing turning the day wheel and having me check it. Sometimes more than once a day. 😉

My next goal is to have him make a moon phase calendar he can adjust daily, but haven’t come up with a decent project that will work as a daily calendar, though I did like the cleverness of this moon phase cup project, but want to make something with him that can be stuck to the fridge with a magnet like the other two, because anything made with a cup will get shuffled, damaged, and eventually tossed out from neglect. After that? The solar system!

EDIT: Apologies, I meant to upload a blank copy of each, but it appears I never scanned (or failed to save the scan) for the hand drawn wheel of the year. Here, at least is the template I used for the wheel of days.

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I’m Five!

IMG_6724Little Fox enjoyed his birthday where a dozen kids and their parents met with us under a shelter in our favorite park despite the wet weather. There were games on corner tables and potluck food and boffers that confused the smallest children, but excited the older ones. Star Wars napkins and lightsaber cupcake toppers and a single, round balloon were my limit for purchasing themed decor. Everything else was low budget and divine.

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A beautiful mistake of a cupcake.

Lots went wrong, and everyone still managed to enjoy themselves. Though we had quite the adventure leaving, as a moat formed around the shelter during our party.

Sunday was a cleaning day. Monday was a grieving day. Tuesday was birthday proper. We went to gymnastics and the park. We had waffles for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and sushi for dinner. His new disco lights illuminated the living room while he opened presents with disco music accompanying him.

IMG_6755Wednesday was a moms’ day out, and four teenagers played video games and held boffer battles with one demanding five year old. We left our house at 11am, and didn’t return until 6pm, and somewhere in the middle, after returning from lunch, we two moms were sucked into the games with the kids.

Despite all the joy and celebration, I didn’t feel like we’d quite capped the birthday until today, when we walked into the library and requested his first library card.

IMG_6744Little Fox has been picking up letters and playing with phonemes. He’s been reading random words and recognizing some of the ones we spell to each other to keep a surprise from him. He’s been working with numbers and fractions and adding and multiplying without a thought. So it seemed time to take him to a repository of knowledge where he could claim it all for himself.

It took less than a minute to type out the form. It took several for him to decide which card he wanted.

Then came time to pick his first books. I told him he could pick any three to take home. He pulled several from shelves asking me about the titles and what section they were in. Picking books suddenly mattered more than usual. He counted them as he chose. “Two books; only one left.” He struggled to pick the third.

He stopped at the edge of the children’s section and stared at the rows of books before him, three books already in my hands.

“I want all of the books,” he whispered to me.

IMG_6805“I know,” I said, “and now you can have all of them, but it’s best to only take a few at a time. We can come back again in a day or two when you’ve finished these and get more.”

He remained standing, still staring at them all. I caught sight of an exposed book with crows on the cover. “This one is called Six Crows. You love crows, right? How about we get four.”

“Four more?”

“No. Four books. That’s enough to carry today.”

He accepted this compromise, and scanned his card, while I typed in his PIN. Then he scanned each book in turn. He let me take his picture before we left.

Now he’s truly five, and I’m so excited for the adventures awaiting him.

 

His first four books checked out on his own card are:

Toshi’s Little Treasures by Nadine Robert

Oh no, Astro! by Matt Roeser

Birds by Jump!

Six Crows by Leo Lionni

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Four Year Old Fractions

downloadMy partner downloaded the app, Slice Fractions 2, onto his iPad, and Little Fox has been obsessed with it. Though he seems to have been able to figure out most of the problems on his own without being formally taught fractions, some of the levels stumped him.

Rather than do the problems for him so his mammoth could move on, earn hats, and rescue cute pets, I talked to him about the problems as we solved them together. He was especially stumped by a particular level where there are two whole blocks, and he has to come up with five-thirds blocks of ice to snuff the lava and let the mammoth go on its merry way.

Just describing it wasn’t working, as it had for other levels, so we got back to practical basics. I didn’t think we’d be doing fractions this early with him, but so be it. He’s interested, so we’re doing it.

I thought of using cuisenaire rods, but what I really wanted was something whole that could be cut up. We don’t have gf pretzel sticks, and I didn’t want to break a pencil for a point (pun intended), and Dragon suggested a banana, but no way am I eating or wasting a banana right now.

We decided on meat sticks, because even if we didn’t eat them, we could put them back in the bag. Fox plucked the paper towel, Dragon fetched the bag of snacks from the pantry, and I set to work.

First we talked about the stick as a whole, representing a block. There are two blocks: two wholes.

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Second, I talked about the “number on the bottom” (the denominator) being how many pieces to cut the whole into. In the case of his problem, five-thirds, he needed to cut each whole into three pieces. Cutting was hard with a table knife–these meat sticks are dry and dense–so I did the work. When we had our three pieces, I showed him that each piece represented a single third.

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Finally, we talked about how many pieces he needed to complete the puzzle. The problem showed 5/3. I talked about the “number on top” (the numerator), and how it indicates how many pieces are necessary to solve the problem. I asked him to count out five thirds from the pieces we had. Then he went back to the game, used his narwhals to slice the right number of thirds, and passed the challenge.

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If you have access to the game and can afford the price ($4), this is an incredible game that my little one loves, and both my partner and I enjoy playing as well, even though we mastered fractions a long time ago because there’s more to many of these challenges than just knowing what numbers are needed to complete each level. (I am not being sponsored by the company to endorse it, I just really, really like it.)

As for the meat sticks, they never made it back in the bag.

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Acknowledging the Past and Present

Before beginning, I want to acknowledge that while I’m certain my audience here is not solely white, there is a disproportionate percentage of white people within the national homeschooling community, so I’m primarily addressing people for whom this subject is often overlooked, or who only give a brief brush of the topic for a single month each year.

black-lives-matter-raglan-tee-graphic-700x649Though I have been active on Twitter, Facebook, and even my writing page regarding Black History Month, I must apologize for forgetting to mention it here. Every day, my kids and I have discussed at least one black leader, hero, or notable individual. From civil rights leaders to artists. From politicians to scientists. People from the past and present. I’ve shown them videos, websites, photos, read their stories to my son. (Visit Satyr’s Garden for a list of my personal black heroes.)

We’re excited to see Black Panther in the theater, but we’re waiting a couple of weeks to save those seats for POC. Daughter understands the significance of the film, son thinks it looks like another exciting superhero film. (A reminder on why representation matters. And specifically Black Panther. And a comment on representation from former FLOTUS, Michelle Obama.)

mv5bmtg1mty2mjyznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtc4ntmwndi-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Being four, he doesn’t grasp yet the import of the movie, the history behind the month, or what other children his age go through. He’s learning, bit by bit. The other day, he walked in on me watching a video of a white police officer brandishing his gun at a handful of black children who were playing ball on the sidewalk with each other outside their homes. One of their mothers had stepped out on the porch and was so terrified she was wailing in the background. He was confused.

We had a discussion about what was going on that led to one about why so many adults he knows distrust police officers. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was far easier than the talks POC give their children about how to act around police to avoid being murdered for the color of their skin.

While my son will be raised to see POC as humans, equals, and friends, I know that’s not a shared view by the current U.S. government, many institutions in place within my country, nor many of the supporters therein. My kids have seen me go off to protests, when my daughter was little, I brought her along, because protests didn’t usually involve the risk of violence. Now I leave the kids at home with my partner.

Why am I being political on a homeschooling blog? Because being socially literate is as important to our education as the academics we teach. Because the political is personal. Racism is rampant in our country, Nazis and white supremacists are vocal and taking positions of power, and it’s becoming ever more dangerous in this country to have brown or black skin.

If you’re also white/European American, and these things matter to you as well, please teach your children. Show them that it matters. Work on a local level to dismantle the systems in place that continue to hold down POC. Teach them about black heroes of the past and the ones working hard today to follow their dreams and make the world better, in spite of the extra obstacles they face.

Write or call your legislators at both local and national levels. March with Black Lives Matter and protest against white supremacist rallies. Make it uncool to be racist again. Challenge people in your circles who tell racist jokes, hesitate to hire dark skinned candidates, or make generalized statements that aren’t true. Do this daily, not just for the month of February.

Raise up POC in your community, promote their work on social media, donate to projects. Buy tickets to see Black Panther, and send some extras to a POC who can’t afford movie tickets themselves. Need more ideas? Here are some:

As part of my efforts to support Black Lives Matter, I’m donating 100% of my share of sales for Cress and the Medicine Show earned every February from this year onward, and 50% of my sales every other month.

Also, if you’re an educator working with high school-aged teens (including homeschoolers) or young adults in college and wish to see if this story would support your curriculum, I’ll happily send you a .pdf. You only need send an email to raven.demers@gmail.com with the subject “Free Copy of Cress.” You’ll be given a teacher-specific copy that includes permission to print for the purposes of education.

If you’d prefer to not purchase the book, but would rather donate directly to Black Lives Matter, you can donate here. Another excellent way to offer individual reparations is through Reparations started by Natasha Marin.

51h2b9m1o8nl-_sx258_bo1204203200_A Few Recommended Picture Books:

8165y22bnllSome Recommended Novels: 

More Book Lists:

 

 

Transparency: The books recommended above are linked through my Amazon Associates account. If any books are purchased through those links, I will earn a few pennies per copy. Just as I will donate 100% of my portion of the sales of Cress and the Medicine Show this month, I will also donate any money, if any, earned from those links.

A Magic School Bus Kind of Day

I awoke with the theme song to The Magic School Bus. My son’s working his way through the original episodes little by little. When I logged into Facebook, I received an ad for a Sun and Moon print dress that looked just like Ms. Frizzle’s astronomy dress. Sadly, it only goes up to a size 12, or I’d have bought it on the spot.

Then we watched the pickle episode after brunch, and discovered Ms. Frizz is a Les Mis fan.

MsFrizz-24601Many of you might already be aware of her love of this musical, but I never watched all the episodes when it was on TV. I only saw the random episode now and again. My daughter and I saw this and broke into song, because we can’t avoid singing “Look Down” and “One Day More” with the slightest suggestion.

What’s more, we now know how tall our newest favorite fictional teacher is, and how much height her hair adds.

I’m skeptical of the new reboot of the show with Ms. Frizz’s younger sister at the wheel, but I do love watching the original show with my son. He’s so focused when we watch it, and talks about what he learned endlessly. He finds ways to incorporate each episode into what we’re doing that day.

Perhaps while we’re making popcorn balls and undressing the Yule tree today, he’ll search for microbes. Whatever comes, I’m sure today will be a productive learning experience.

Of course, I still want the dress. Perhaps I could write a letter to the company to upgrade the sizes. 😉