Reading Little-by-Little

45675785_10155911576738059_3982809025682079744_n.jpgLittle Fox is starting to read. I’d mentioned in the spring, he’d read almost the entirety of Green Eggs and Ham to me over a half hour, with little help from me, but then he refused to read much again after that.

I don’t believe in pushing kids too hard. When they’re ready, they’re ready, and especially when it comes to fundamentals of education. They need to build these bit-by-bit without feeling pressured to do so on a deadline–give them tools, encouragement, and the occasional nudge, and they’re likely to find their way through academics (and sometimes even life).

Sometimes it’s difficult to convince my partner of this, but I keep reassuring him that with being read to daily, and offering him opportunities to figure out the sounds of words in his environment, there’s a strong chance he’ll learn by age 7, even if he isn’t reading before then. (We have a similar discussion about maths, but that’s for another post.) Pushing kids too hard before they’re ready can lead to harming their long-term reading success, and as parent, teacher, and writer, and I want to ensure my kids not only can read for future careers, but for the pleasure of reading.

flipawordThat being said, this year has been filled with “reading prep” that’s engaging and Little Fox keeps asking for more. He’s ready every single “Flip-a Word” books available, and now looks at words in terms of their “families” (based on shared suffixes).

While his dad reads picture books or pop-up science books to him each night, since spring, I’ve been reading him novels. Though I’d read a couple of Nurse Matilda books (that inspired the Nanny McPhee movies) to him last year, he wasn’t able to follow them chapter-by-chapter each night. But when my copy of Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera arrived, I read him the first chapter, and he was hooked.

We don’t read novels every night–he doesn’t always get into bed early enough for my portion of story time–but since Space Opera, we’ve read five other novels, and he’s had me buy him copies of each one. I can tell he’s paying attention because he asks questions, and the characters come up again in our talks later in the week. His novel reading list thus far:LittleFoxNovels2018

2. Bunnicula

3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

4. My Pet Human

5. Catwings

6. Catwings Returns

I’m hoping we’ll get through the other two Catwings books and The Neverending Story before the end of the year, especially since I’ve reinforced an earlier bedtime than we’ve had in months.

51u3xvbhv9l-_sx384_bo1204203200_Also, to supplement his other forms of learning, we purchased a Sylvan kindergarten book that focuses on math and reading. He’s required to two pages of each four or five times a week (a great activity when I need quiet time or to get some work done without too much distraction). He’s so far ahead on the math games that we’ll be jumping into cuisenaire rod games and origami, and he’s discovered a love of word search puzzles because of the reading section. I was skeptical about adding a workbook that wasn’t just mazes and activities so soon, but he’s really taken to it. What he began a couple of months ago (a school year’s worth of pages), will likely be done soon after the new year.

Every day, he’s looking at words like puzzles to solve, and asking me questions about the sounds they make, what happens if we replace a single letter, and what they’d sound like if we read them backwards. There’s no doubt now, he’s ready, and he’s loving every moment of it.

SIDE NOTE: It’s nearly the first anniversary of the launch of The Grasp of Time. If you’d like a chance to win a free, signed copy, follow me on Twitter.

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Oh Yes, I’ve Leveled Up

Last Sunday, I said farewell to my thirties and it seems forty doubles under eye-bag size over night.

Dragon cooked bacon and English muffins for our breakfast, served next to a giant bouquet of dahlias and sunflowers. Little Fox braved a crowded library to decorate a balloon for me the day prior, so it remains as decor in our home until it deflates.

We went into Seattle, celebrated our friend’s sixth birthday, which included a balloon pit and a pinata filled with Legos. We ate at La Cocina Cantina, which holds decades of memories for my partner and I. From Nuflours Bakery, we picked up my enormous birthday cake and eight (gluten free!) eclairs. The sun broke free of the clouds for a few hours, though we ran through a brief torrent on the way to the car.

Upon returning home, I didn’t have to do anything but read and play Hollow Knight, but come evening, none of us were terribly hungry. I ran out for a sushi snack (plus yellow curry noodles) to share around the family, with the agreement we’d go out for a proper dinner later this week.

Friends posted reviews of my most recent book, other friends accepted digital copies to review later. One group of friends stopped by while we were out to leave a gift on my front door. Another sent me a gift to try out a local float tub! My partner purchased Cirque de Soleil tickets to see in the near future, and since we can’t afford a proper vacation right now (my requested gift), we agreed to at least drive up to Leavenworth in December for a day trip to take the kids to see the “Christmas Town.” I haven’t been since I was 15. The kids snuggled with me to end the day on a special note. I felt truly blessed, despite allergies and inflammation the whole week prior.

Catching Up on Summer: Part II

WHAT WE DID

In the last post, I focused on Dragon’s birthday party, but after mid-July, I somehow managed to keep us busy every weekend. Most notably, we took the kids to their first Renaissance Faire for their fairy/mythical beasts weekend. I’d purchased a family day pass back at the start of January, which proved a wonderful way to avoid huge fees. The kids dressed as winged fairies, I put on my satyr horns, and my partner wore the new silver vest we’d bought him for his birthday.

We ate messy foods, drank copious amounts of birch and root beer, watched Scaramouch buffoonery, tried our hand at archery (the Little Fox hit his target on the second try!), and purchased a soprano ukulele for the family to learn to play together (and we’ve been learning a little each week). While the children rode a enormous wooden rocking unicorn, I danced with death in the square on screaming feet.

Before this though, the kids and I went to the U-District for a special reading of Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, followed by falafel and fries at a favorite dive on the Ave. Having read more than two-thirds of the book, we dressed up for the occasion. Little Fox donned a dramatic coat and a disco ball necklace, I braved a pair of striped pants I’d yet to wear in public, and the Dragon dressed like the curator of an art gallery.

The weekend after the double birthday, my father was in town, and we spent the afternoon with him at the park, followed by sushi for dinner. The next day was my aunt’s annual summer bbq, where we engaged in polite conversation (safe topics) with our family until the conservatives left, and then we entered a debate between the old school Democrats and the progressive Democratic Socialists. It was wonderful hearing my youngest first cousin not let down on topics like universal healthcare and basic income. His partner was equally willing to take on the discussion about the environment and farming.

The weekend after, we enjoyed watching a local teen production of Footloose in which one of my students was a chorus member, and her acting debut. I had the privilege of holding her weeks-old baby brother at the end of the show. The Ren Faire came the following weekend. Summer really felt over and done when the rains returned and the nights turned cold.

 

WHAT WE READ

A curious change has come to our evening routine. My partner still reads a picture book or part of a comic book to the Little Fox, but instead of my usual singing, I’ve started in on novels. Though I’d said in June I wanted to read Neverending Story to the Little Fox, we instead finished Space Opera, and read Bunnicula. When complete, he asked me to purchase his own copy so he could read it again and again. We’re about to complete Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m blown away by the pacing of this particular book, as I grew up watching the film. There’s no magic in this book, it’s rather practical, and there’s so much more to the backstory for the rats, I love that I get to discover this with my son. He wants to rewatch the movie after we finish the book; we can discuss the differences and how he feels about them when we do.

 

On the side, I’ve read the first few volumes of Princess Jellyfish (see below), Djinn by Sang Kromah, and am nearly finished with a sensory feast in a slim book called The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. They’re different flavors, and each one a delight. Princess Jellyfish appeals to my geeky and queer sides, I love the sweet innocent undercurrent of the story. Djinn is a young adult novel focusing on Liberian myths to which I’ve had little exposure, and they brought a refreshing, unpredictable change to the genre that left me hopeful for the next book. Then there’s the smooth, tight writing of The Black God’s Drums that takes us to an alternate nineteenth century New Orleans where sky pirates and orisha gods are at the heart of a young girl’s story.

 

 

WHAT WE WATCHED

I can’t recall exactly when we started rewatching Xena: Warrior Princess, but we’re nearing the end of the second season. Though we’ve also watched the new MLP episodes and occasionally a Samurai Jack or two, we’ve been running through the show fairly consistently each evening. Both Dragon and my partner have seen some of these episodes, but neither have seen the whole series. Even I missed the last season or two. Little Fox wasn’t keen on them at first, but now he’s telegraphing Xena’s battle moves in his pretend play, so she’s growing on him.

The kids and I binged watched the short series Princess Jellyfish, based on the manga of the same name. It’s a charming, usually silly show about a group of otaku (geeky) women who live together in a large, aging building targeted for redevelopment. They’re each obsessed with varying hobbies, the M.C.’s is jellyfish in large part because of a memory with her mother who died soon after. She runs into a “stylish,” a woman who dresses in high fashion and make-up, and engages in social activities that are difficult for the introverted group. The “stylish” in question turns out to be a young man with a penchant for forthrightness, fashion, and avoiding a career in politics like his father and brother. Some of it’s a bit over the top, but it’s wholly charming, and Little Fox’s favorite character is the young man in frilly dresses who, coincidentally, bears some similarities in appearance with him.

Just recently, Pandora stopped working consistently on our home computers. Songs would stutter, the computer wouldn’t let the audio play at all, and sometimes the page simply wouldn’t load at all. So I canceled our paid subscriptions, and put a little of that money into PBS Passport shows.

 

We’ve finally started watching The Great British Bake Off (a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show) after years of hearing from our friends how amazing it is. Folks, I’m always in awe of the food they make, but better yet, I’m touched by the way they treat the bakers–I’ve cried at the end of each episode thus far because when they let someone go, there’s so much support and love around said person, it challenges the notion that competitions need to be vicious and cruel. The way the hosts treat their guests flies in the face of American shows like Hell’s Kitchen where verbal abuse is not only the standard for communication, it’s what brings in the ratings. I prefer watching a show where talent and hard earned skill is acknowledged, and mistakes are seen as something to be improved upon, not shamed. Little Fox is rooting for 17 year old Martha in the first season.

 

WHAT WE ATE

At the Arcade Birthday: hummus, chips, veggies, gluten free cakey chocolate doughnut holes (“bonbons” from Flying Apron), orange doughnuts, and other sundry nibbles.

At Dinner with Papa: salmon and hamachi rolls and sashimi, edamame, miso soup.

At the BBQ: green salad, burnt steaks, my father’s baked salmon (soy sauce, olive oil, and lime juice), ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate syrup.

At the Renaissance Faire: sausages and caramelized onions, giant pickles, fries, root beer, birch beer, and lemonade.

 

Catching Up on Summer: Part I

When last I posted, I mentioned the Dragon’s impending adulthood. Yet our summer was filled with far more activity after–we had plans every weekend–that went beyond our usual summer experiences, I never stopped to write about them.

So the double birthday. Every year, my partner and daughter share their birthday, and some years one of them is emphasized more than the other. In this case, Dragon turning 18 took center stage over my partner turning 48 (but look out 2020, because I have plans for 50).

We’d had a conversation while walking through a lovely part of Kirkland, and passed by an exquisite wedding dress in a shop window. We both agreed it would be wonderful to wear it, though it looked too small for me and too large for them. I mentioned that though I never wish to marry, I always thought it would be fun to throw an elaborate party and wear a dress that nice to celebrate life.

Despite insisting they didn’t want a party before, Dragon decided that’s exactly the kind of party they needed. Of course, we didn’t have the budget for a full-scale wedding, but the fancy dress? That was key. Not only were we all going to wear wedding or formal dresses, we were going to do it in … AN ARCADE.

Unfortunately, there isn’t the same level of arcade saturation these days as there had been in my teens, and many that exist in our area are either 21+ or filled with dark rooms, couches, and wall monitors, which we could easily achieve at our own house. We wanted pinball. We wanted PacMan and Mario. Dragon wanted Dance Dance Revolution, and by the gods, and some good references by friends, we found one: Another Castle – Arcade Edition in Edmonds, WA.

They still have machines that take quarters, let us bring in our own food (not drinks, and didn’t mind us bringing a couple dozen people in.

People were a bit skeptical at first, but once the Dragon and I had our dresses and veils, my partner was ready to buy a dress–a merlot red–and upon seeing his dad in a gorgeous dress, Little Fox wanted a new dress for himself. We thought he had a decent one that reminded me of a summer flower girl, but he wanted something over the top. He chose a golden dress with delicate flowers, and insisted on gold shoes and a gold crown. He loved the whole outfit, but couldn’t wear the dress in the car seat because of the wire hoop at the bottom of the dress (he put it on at the arcade).

Our friends came in twos and threes, most of them dressed in their finest. My boyfriend came in the suit he

wore at his wedding a couple decades before. One of my students wore her prom dress, and looked stunning. We ordered sodas and water, grabbed a bucket of quarters ($60 worth), and set about playing every interesting game available. The teens primarily stuck to DDR, which proved far more challenging in a wedding dress than casual clothes.

It was a load of fun, and we all agreed the arcade was exactly what we needed (we want to go back again just for a bit of craic). When the adults around us started buying lots of beer and other alcohol, we started packing up. We drove back home thrilled.

Wedding-Themed Birthday at an Arcade?

I give it five stars.

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.

Color Theory

Color_diagram_Charles_Hayter

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.

IMG_5700

“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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