Reading Selections Renewed

Excited and nervous, I welcomed six new students to Reading Selections, five of whom are entirely new to me.  It’s a full class, and I’m over the moon to introduce them to the short readings I love most.  There’s a full range of ages and personalities, though I think all of us are on the introversion side of the spectrum.  After the first run of these classes, I’ve organized the readings to have more solid themes, and better thought out flow from month to month and piece to piece.

For a long while, I worried there would only be two students, which while still feasible, doesn’t allow for as many perspectives to add to the richness of the discussion.

Though many of the selections have changed or shifted position, the first month of the first year of literary shorts remains the same as the first time I ran these courses:

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
  • The Lady, or the Tiger? by Frank Stockton
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin

Give our introductory discussions, getting to know a bit about one another, I’m quite certain these young people will surprise me with a wide variety of projects and perspectives, even among the siblings participating.  My most fervent wish for this class is to be a good guide and resource to them, to help them flourish, and find magic within the words they’re reading.  I remain nervous, yet the excitement builds.

My biggest obstacle right now is technical.  The cost of even self service copies has become a joke, and to print a full year of selections at a shop would cost over $40 per packet.   Thus, to be practical and economical, I’m stocking up on printer ink.  My little printer can’t do hundreds of pages a minute, especially double sided, but it’ll be worth it in the long run to do it the more tedious way.  The selections are laid out for the full three years, now all I need to do is compile and print them.

Planning Preschool at Home

preschoolplanOur lives continue to change and evolve.  In preparation for my daughter’s imminent entrance to college life, I’m also planning how best to make use of the approximately eight hours a day, four days a week, of one-on-one time with my son whose needs are vastly different than his sister’s were when we started homeschooling at a 4th grade level.

Preschool education, while in general a comfortable place for me (I love nursery rhymes and music circles and silly movement games), I’ve never taught this level full-time with one or more children.  Creating a routine isn’t easy for me either, but at this age, children need it so much more than the rest of us.

Together, my son and I will be establishing a new routine, one filled with games and exploration of our local world.  Routines filled with a more dedicated focus each week, to help me in staying on track with him and not falling into bad habits of idleness and home seclusion (something I fight from my upbringing and introversion).

Though he’s signed up for fall music and gymnastics, and once he’s four, he’ll be eligible for weekly classes in preschool farming, Aikido, parkour, and drama, there’s a lot of time between any classes where we need to be engaged in more than playing cars or watching Steven Universe.

Thus, I’ve laid out a weekly theme guide for the coming year.  For reference, I have started our preschool theme planning on the last Monday of September, when my daughter heads off to Running Start.  The three weeks before that are preparatory weeks to get the house and the family ready for this major shift in our current lifestyle.  It includes relevant holidays to us and planned visits with friends.  If you’re in a similar boat with a preschooler, these themes might inspire you to do your own.

Around these themes, I’ve tentatively planned certain field trips.  For example, Week 2’s theme pairs well with visiting the local Reptile Zoo, and “Fire and Rescue” lends itself well to visiting our local firehouse to meet our rescue workers and see how they operate.  Some of these trips will require more coordination and planning ahead than others, but all of them will include both at-home projects, art, songs, etc., and outdoor exploration.

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Little Fox uses cat as a pillow

SEPTEMBER 2016

Week A: Not Back to School outings
Week B: Ready House
Week C: College Prep / Mabon
Week 1: Human Body

OCTOBER

Week 2: Eggs & Who Lays Them
Week 3: Trees and Plants in Fall
Week 4: Our Senses
Week 5: Harvest / Samhain
Week 6: Samhain / [Friend Visiting] / Exploring Our Town

NOVEMBER

Week 7: Community Helpers: Fire & Rescue
Week 8: First Nations People
Week 9: Giving Thanks / Gratitude
Week 10: Nocturnal Animals

DECEMBER

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One of our neighbors on a walk through the neighborhood.

Week 11: Hibernation
Week 12: Arctic Animals
Week 13: Solstice / Christmas
Week 14: Keeping Warm

JANUARY 2017

Week 15: Snow and Ice
Week 16: Hygiene
Week 17: Nutrition
Week 18: Safety Indoors / Chinese New Year
Week 19: Imbolc / Start of Spring

FEBRUARY

Week 20: Sheep and Goats
Week 21: Love and Friendship
Week 22: Soil and Garden Prep
Week 23: Heroes and Leaders

MARCH

Week 24: Transportation
Week 25: Life cycles
Week 26: Spring Break / Ostara
Week 27: Flowers

APRIL

Week 28: Baby Animals
Week 29: Norwescon Prep / Crafts
Week 30: Little Fox’s Birthday / The Earth and Earth Day
Week 31: Forests and Jungles
Week 32: Deserts and Plains

MAY

Week 33: Oceans and Islands
Week 34: Fresh Water
Week 35: Beaches
Week 36: Garden Pollinators

JUNE

Week 37: Birds in our yard
Week 38: Dance
Week 39: Litha
Week 40: Outdoor Safety

JULY

Week 41: Astronomy and Space
Week 42: Rocks and Minerals
Week 43: Free Play / Double Birthday Week
Week 44: Zoo Animals
Week 45: Farming / Lughnasadh

AUGUST

Week 46: Sea Creatures / Aquarium
Week 47: Camping and Hiking
Week 48: Food Art
Week 49: Ponds: Flora and Fauna

SEPTEMBER

Week 50: Market Vegetables

What We’re Doing: Auspicious August

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

August has been an intense month.  If you’re into astrology, there are a host of astrologers ready to explain what’s been going on.  For us, the biggest challenge has been my health.  I spent a week and a half virtually immobilized (I could get around the house, and I took my kids to their recurring classes) from a cyst in a poor position.  The one excellent piece of my immobility: I spent a lot of time at the desk, editing my books and getting them ready to send off to publishers.  I’ve completed two novels, and I’m assembling a new collection of poetry.  (Shameless plug: here’s my previous poetry collection for reference.)

I haven’t been this productive with my writing in a long while, and it feels good to clear away old projects, so I can start addressing ones still in concept or outline phases.  Of course, homeschooling and parenting from a chair or bed can be a huge challenge in creativity.  We read a lot more books, watched more shows than usual, and I took my son to see $1 movies, since I could sit still without major issue.  More than that, I set out my son’s tumble mats, and encouraged him to practice his gymnastics more.  We played music, and though I couldn’t get up and dance with him as I usually do, I did arm dances, and scooted out close to him, to hold his hands while he did some fancy footwork.  He got to draw more, and he took walks with his sister, and together, we all got through it until I could move around again.

Then there was the nestling tossed from its nest in our driveway we rescued (based on advice from the Audubon Society and a few rescue shelters) … the only survivor of a vicious invader who killed all its siblings the next day.  Since placing it in the ground cover and bushes, we’ve seen no sign of it since, and hope we improved its chances of survival.

The momentum of my writing hasn’t ceased, though formatting and synopsis writing aren’t really feeding my urge, and whenever I feel this, I follow it.  Motivation must be lassoed whenever it comes, and ridden as long as I can hold onto it.  With autumn brings change, and I’ll be teaching kids beyond my own, my son and I will be spending several hours alone together every day and I need to plan for it, and my daughter will be entering college and need a different form of support in the evenings.  For the foreseeable future, this means I’ll be writing less in this blog.  Instead of once a week on Wednesdays, expect one or two entries a month until our new schedule steadies out, and I’ve found my footing.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51fd2bhh2ssl-_sy497_bo1204203200_We’re working on encouraging our son to try using the toilet again.  For the last few months, he’s outright refused to try, nor will he wear the underwear he picked out.  Since the best time to run around half naked learning to potty is in the summer, I’m hoping he’ll be inspired in the next few weeks while the weather’s still warm.  I checked out the Potty for Boys box from the library, which contains an anatomically correct doll with potty seat, several books, DVDs, and a CD to help teach about pottying. Also, we came across Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman, which is a charming little book about vegetables wearing underwear, and while it’s simplistic, it hits home that babies wear diapers, big kids wear underwear, and vegetables come in various shapes and sizes.  Since checking it out, my son has had us read it to him three times in one day.

With the imminent release of the movie, I’ve begun reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. While I’ve delved only into the first few chapters thus far, I’m already captivated by the realism of a boy’s struggle in being a good son while his mother battles cancer.  Though the movie trailer below shows us an outsider’s perspective, adding the drama and the inherent sense of sadness or pity for the enormity of his experiences, from the boy’s intimate perspective, he downplays everything in his life, not wishing to directly name his fears or acknowledge the severity of the bullying he receives in school.  I’m looking forward to following his journey through the book, and seeing how his story is adapted for the film.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’re still watching Economics through Crash Course a few times a week, and we’ve been attending the $1 Regal movies regularly, but since finishing all 8 seasons of Charmed, we’ve gone for a lighter show’s reruns: Dharma and Greg.  If you’ve never watched it, it begins with two people from opposite sides of (white) American culture: a woman with hippie parents who decry capitalism, and a man who works as a lawyer and whose parents are among the upper 2% of the economic spectrum.  The day of their meeting turns into a long date with a lot of travel, culminating in their marriage.  Thus begins the entire premise of the show.  So far, four episodes in, my daughter is delighted, and my son eats his lunch and doesn’t complain, but is ready to dash off the moment his food is finished.  At least it’s only a 25 minute show, so we have been able to watch one before he’s done.  The Dragon specifically said she enjoys watching the opening credits, as they make her happy.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

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Spicy Chicken and Pasta

1 lb. boneless chicken thighs
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil
1 tomato
1 lg. Beaver Dam pepper (or equivalent medium pepper)
1 c. white wine
salt, black pepper, tarragon, olive oil
1 pkg. caserecce or other pasta
grated parmesan, asiago, or blend
6 cloves garlic

In a large pot, prepare pasta according to instructions, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook chicken thighs with a pinch of salt and pressed garlic.  Remove meat and chop into small chunks.  In the same skillet, cook chopped tomato, sundried tomatoes, and Beaver Dam peppers* until tender.  Add wine and tarragon, cook another five to seven minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.  Pour the contents of the pan into a small mixing bowl and blend with a hand blender.

Warm pasta with olive oil in the pot.

Serve chicken and pasta onto plates separate or together.  Dress the pasta with cheese, and spoon the sauce over the chicken.

My partner and I ended up mixing all the food together on the plate, our children did not.  Everyone thought it turned out well (although for the toddler, I reserved only the tomato mixture, cooking the peppers separately. Once his was served, I added in the peppers, and blended some more).

 

*Beaver Dam peppers are my absolute favorite chili peppers in the world.  They grow as big as poblanos and anaheims, and reach a similar level of medium heat, but the heat builds slowly, releasing a host of tempting flavors other peppers don’t achieve.  Even when lightly sauteed, they have a smoky quality without needing to smoke or grill them.  If you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend them; they tend to be red and green striped, rather than a single color.  I have yet to successfully grow them, but I try anew every year.

What We’re Doing: 16th & 46th Birthday

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Last week, we celebrated the twin birthdays of my partner and my daughter.

The actual day involved feasting from the morning through the night.  We explored some of our favorite parts of Seattle, and kept things low key.  On Saturday, though, we focused on our daughter by throwing a party at a local park.

She wanted something comparatively easy to throw together, something fun and open to a number of our friends and family.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

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With a lot of planning, we threw together a sword & sorcery party at the park during the early evening, followed by gaming at our house until midnight.  We made over twenty boffers (long swords – 3′ pipe, short swords – 2′ pipe, daggers – 1′ pipe, staffs – 3′ pipe with equally split foam) and sewed thirty-six bean bags (potions, spells, bard’s songs).

Though some of her friends weren’t able to come, we had plenty of guests participate.  We grilled food (a learning experience for me), engaged in friendly battles, and spent a lot of time talking.  Some of our guests followed us home for cards and jokes, a few of our neighbors stopped by, and we pulled out the futon.

All in all, a good time, and my daughter enjoyed herself immensely.

 

THE RULES

CharliesAngels

Charlie’s Angels Pose

Since we wanted the one day LARP to be casual and not requiring a lot of intensive character creation or storyline, especially with two three year old pixies running about.  I threw together the follow, though it became clear after a couple of hours my rules need some fine tuning and clarification.

Welcome travelers from far and wide!

You’ve arrived at the fair Loch of Cottage where Taiathess, Guardian of Ink, celebrates her 16th Name Day. Eat, drink, and fight in the name of friendly competition.

When you arrive:

1. Pick a character back story
2. Pick a name and place on name tag
3. Pick a boffer

Guidelines:

A. Be respectful of everyone

B. Do your best to stay in character; if you’re speaking to someone out of character (ooc), place your right hand or fist over your chest to indicate you’re ooc.

C. Physical combat should only involve boffers. If someone else’s boffer touches one of your limbs, consider that limb too injured to fight. If the boffer touches your abdomen, it’s a critical wound; do a rock-paper-scissors to see if you lose the challenge. Both arms injured means you’ve lost the challenge. NO ATTACKING YOUR OPPONENT’S HEAD OR GROIN. Do so, and you’ll lose the challenge automatically.

D. Any monks or fighters using hand-to-hand, describe your action, and use rock-paper-scissors to see who wins the challenge. Winning five rounds of rps wins the challenge.

E. Magical combat will involve bean bags (for potions) and imagination, describe your actions, and use rock-paper-scissors. Five “wins” of rps, and you win the challenge.

F. Clerics will be on hand to heal characters between competitions. Be kind to them, or you might remain too wounded to fight. At least there will be food, right?

G. Remember, this is a friendly competition for the amusement and enjoyment of Taiathess, Guardian of Ink.

H. Be inventive, be clever, and bring your character to life!

We used character back story generators and name generators to come up with lists.  I created a template for name badges and went to FedEx to print them on label paper, cutting them out by hand.  People chose the backstory label they each liked best and wished to roleplay, then selected a name from the list of randomly generated names ranging from high fantasy to cutesy (e.g. Smoochiecuddlecakes) to silly (e.g. Skullmeat, Lumpcheese).  They competed for the chance to win the Great Sword of Flying Pig (a boffer we made using flying pigs duct tape).

At some point soon, we’ll be updating the rules for this casual form of LARPing, and hope to start a proper roleplaying group (either tabletop or LARP) with local families, because my daughter adored it when people stayed in character.

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WHAT WE’RE EATING

At the party, we grilled vegetable skewers, lamb souvlaki, chicken satay, and we had a garden salad with local produce and flowers, chips, berries, hummus, raspberry zinger cake from Flying Apron, and the one thing people wanted the recipe for the most:

Quinoa Tabouli

1 c. Dry quinoa
2 c. water
1 large cucumber
1 large tomato (heirloom preferred)
1/4 c. Mint, fresh, chiffonade
Olive oil
Juice from 1-2 lemons
Salt, garlic granules, and black pepper

Cook quinoa as directed (ours involves bringing to a boil, covering and simmering on low about 15 minutes).  Once cooked, transfer to a bowl. Add chopped vegetables and mint, season with salt, garlic, and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemons and add juice, the. Drizzle with olive oil (more than expected, but long before saturated with oil).  Mix well with a large spoon. Serve warm or chill first.

Two Books and an Update

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The Dragon and Fox out on a Pokéwalk

Much happened since my last post, and it’s taken me a bit to come around to all of it.  A dear friend passed away, I visited my best friend who attended the death ritual, our family started playing Pokémon Go, and I completed my solo debut novel’s manuscript after letting it slide for over a year.

 

Why include Pokemon?  Because my feet have blisters, and it’s changed how we spend our days, even those we consider “at home” days.

Since all of these changes have left me rather ill, I am working on resting before throwing myself too hard into my next project, so this post will be brief.

My son has been enjoying two books from the library this week.  One helps us talk about death in a gentle way, and the other keeps us playful and bright.

81ow8gvvh6lA serendipitous find, we stumbled across Mrs. Huggins and Her Hen Hannah by Lydia Dabcovich from a recommendation at just the right time.  The gentle pictures of a rural life shared between an elder woman and her best friend, shows the joys one can have in daily tasks when in good company, and the life that goes on even after death and grief.

follow-me-9781481471473_lgThe other book, Follow me! by Ellie Sandall, shows a different sort of life: a communal life of ring-tailed lemurs as they move from waking to sleep and all the joy and danger in between.  The images are bright and clear, the language simple, yet allowing for a lot of variation in delivery, which is great for my drama prince who giggles when my theatrical training comes through during storytelling.

 

EDIT: Since my daughter will be celebrating her 16th birthday (and my partner his 46th, on the same day), we’ll be extraordinarily busy next week.  There will be no post, but the following Wednesday, I’ll have a new update about the party.  Thanks for your patience.

Things My Three Year Old Loves

13592205_10153719898923059_5651370052460487932_nPlaying in the park.  Nothing pleases him more than heading to a local park and finding a lot of other children there.  Like many novel situations, he stands and watches for several minutes before determining whether or not something is safe.  Once he’s sure, he dives headlong.  He treats making friends the same way.  He watches the other children for a while, walking right up to a group and listening in.  Once he’s gathered intel, he decides whether to move on to a different group of children, find a solo playmate, or engage in whatever activity the first group decides upon.

Back and neck massage to help him nap. Since giving up milk at nap time, for months we’d pretty much given up nap time because even attempts at “quiet time” failed.  One day I was too tired and desperate for my own quiet time, so I invited him on the bed for a back rub.  He loved it so much, he fell asleep.  Now every day I’ve been offering the same during quiet time.  He doesn’t always fall sleep, but I can get a quiet break for up to an hour for fifteen minutes of back, neck, and leg massage. So worth it.

13512014_10153693760728059_5127652802662483956_nPainting with vibrant colors.  We explored tempera paints for the first time together and used it as a chance to talk about color theory. He adored it and wants to do it again!  (We’re starting the bidding for his debut piece, “Roads, Space Rockets, and Flowers” at $30,ooo.)

Watercolor spraying with an old sheet hung up outside.  Now that it’s summer again, we can drag out the spray bottles, watercolors, and old white sheet for creative play.  Leave it out in the rain to wash it away and start again, or put it away and add more layers.

Access to percussion instruments.  Bang bang rattle clang ding and dong.  Nothing like helping a child find his voice than providing him with copious amounts of percussion instruments.

Playing with his babydolls.  Sometimes he cuddles his babydolls (Callie and Alejandro), sometimes he puts them to bed, and sometimes he walks them around the house in their tandem stroller.  He asks often for assistance in clearing a path for the stroller and pushing it over obstacles.  He wants to be a good daddy to his “kids.”

13510861_10153700899978059_766190641590540333_nAnything to do with cars and other vehicles.  Still obsessed, but after putting all of his non-stuffed toys into the same place in the living room (instead of in places around the house), he’s been far better at keeping track of his toys, and in putting them away in their bins.

Making boffers.  Ok, he likes watching me make boffers for his sister’s 16th birthday party, and picking up the unfinished ones to play with.  We have several started as PVC pipe and pool noodle foam, now to move on to applying the many colors of duct tape we bought.  We’re making swords, staeves, daggers, and a couple of short swords for the three year olds.

Cuddles, lullabies, and story time.  Who doesn’t like these?  But as a group, they’re ubiquitous to the pleasures of being young and tiny.  Three year olds are still in many ways babies, though they won’t be for much longer.  Bask in all the toddler kisses and snuggles you can, because they make life sweeter by the minute.  One of the latest finds at the library was quite adorable and charming.  Dear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi features an alley cat who works as an advice correspondent to the local animals of Critterville. They send in letters full of their woes (and a small treat as payment), and she writes back with her sage wisdom. Definitely worth checking out.

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Expanding Reading Selections

In making plans for the summer and coming fall, I’ve put myself out there as available to teach Reading Selections beyond the scope of my previous classes.  

I’m a bit nervous about it, because this time around, I’ll only know one student.  Part of my summer will involve refining my earlier selections and working on clarity of expectations with kids who aren’t my own or those of a close friend.  One parent interested has already asked me to completely gut my selections of any genre pieces outside literary fiction and teach her children exclusively; I declined to do so.

Science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery are all part and parcel to a diverse literary education.  They invite us to safely speculate upon history, the future, and the human condition without necessarily having to plunge into the gory depths of what we actually do and have done to one another. Many of the classics I use fall into genre fiction, at that.  Phillip K. Dick, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Hans Christian Andersen … are these not literary enough authors to warrant mention?

But I digress.  The point is that, in preparing files for scrutiny, in preparing for my daughter’s impending party (mere weeks away now), and in preparing for my friend’s death with dignity schedule for this week, I’d let slip my blog writing once more.

On the theme of literature and reading, though, I wish to share an important article on the common practices for teaching literacy that utterly fail our children: What Doesn’t Work on Edutopia.com. These five points are valid whether in a class or at home, and I’ve managed to avoid these mistakes, though I’ve made plenty of others in my time.

My literary analysis class certainly touches on some of the article’s points: children learn new vocabulary (and how to spell the words they learn) through active use and discussion.  The latter helps with comprehension of content and seeing a piece from different perspectives, which allows for deeper questions to be asked during future readings. 

Small group learning is something I wish I could provide my own children more opportunities to engage in, but with their ages so far apart, starting local discussion groups is the best I’ve got so far as a homeschooled.